J.B. Hunt, Tyson Foods, Walmart partner with Plug and Play to launch startup accelerator in NWA

by Talk Business & Politics staff ([email protected]) 2,035 views 

Silicon Valley-based startup accelerator Plug and Play Tech Center plans to launch a supply chain and logistics accelerator program in Northwest Arkansas this summer.

The new program was announced Tuesday (May 14) in partnership with the region’s “Big Three” companies — J.B. Hunt, Tyson Foods and Walmart.

An official launch event will take place in Northwest Arkansas this summer.

“We are excited to accelerate and invest in startups in Northwest Arkansas as it is the birthplace of some of the world’s largest companies like Walmart, Tyson Foods, and J.B. Hunt,” Mike Zayonc, founder of Plug and Play’s Supply Chain & Logistics program, said in a statement. “The founding partners in this program will be able to collaborate with our worldwide startup network right in their own backyard.”

The effort is also supported by the Walton Family Foundation and the Arkansas Economic Development Commission. The program will be coordinated locally by the Northwest Arkansas Council.

Plug and Play Tech Center was founded in 2006. Headquartered in Sunnyvale, Calif., the accelerator has teamed up with some 280 corporate partners and 300 venture capitals to promote startup growth across the globe.

“This new relationship with Plug and Play will leverage our regional strength in supply chain and logistics,” Northwest Arkansas Council CEO Nelson Peacock said in a statement. “This program will shine a greater spotlight on all of the great things happening in Northwest Arkansas.”

Participants in the accelerator program, according to a news release, will have access to “a network of industry experts, including Fortune 500 companies, leading supply chain and logistics faculty from the University of Arkansas and business development opportunities.”

Plug and Play will work collaboratively with participants from the region to identify important industry challenges in supply chain and logistics, then seek out the best startups to help develop solutions to those challenges.

“Innovation in logistics and the overall efficiency of supply chains are critical as we continue to grow our company,” said John R. Tyson, director in the office of the CEO of Tyson Foods and great-grandson of the company founder. “We’ve been working with Plug and Play for more than a year and feel there’s more opportunity to collaborate. Having an accelerator like this in Northwest Arkansas will give us access to the creative and entrepreneurial thinking we need to succeed in our highly competitive industry.”

The program will include two cohorts of 10 companies each year and will feature workshops, mentorship sessions and summits that will bring innovation, business development and investment opportunities to Northwest Arkansas. The accelerator will focus on supply chain optimization, blockchain, last-mile delivery, warehouse automation, IoT (Internet of Things) sensors, predictive analytics, machine learning and more.

“Technology is changing the way we move freight, and collaborating with Plug and Play gives us the opportunity to team up with leading startups on solutions that will help our customers,” said John Roberts, president and CEO of J.B. Hunt. “Bringing the Supply Chain & Logistics accelerator program to Northwest Arkansas will also showcase the region’s status as an innovation hub, and we look forward to working with these startups on the next big idea.”

A grant from the Walton Family Foundation will support the entrepreneurial education and training curriculum for accelerator participants, as well as support community events and mentoring workshops.

“Northwest Arkansas is known for driven entrepreneurs who created access to opportunity and transformed communities,” Karen Minkel, Home Region Program Director at the Walton Family Foundation, said in a statement. “Plug and Play’s accelerator will support the next generation of promising startups that will strengthen our innovation ecosystem.”

As part of the accelerator program, participating startups will be matched with mentors to refine their business models. Participants will also be able to work closely with the founding partner companies to identify potential collaboration opportunities. At the conclusion of each program, startups will be able to showcase ideas to prospective customers and investors, including strategic partners from the Plug and Play’s global network.

“Innovation that increases efficiency in our supply chain will help our team continue to be a competitive advantage for the company and ensure we can maintain everyday low prices for our customers however they want to shop,” said Greg Smith, executive vice president, supply chain, Walmart U.S. “By combining the strength of Walmart and the speed of startups, this partnership with Plug and Play will accelerate innovation and support our efforts to maintain a best-in-class supply chain.”