Northwest Arkansas has long been seen as a cradle for innovation and it’s also earned the distinction of a supply chain center of excellence. Next year it will also be home to 20 new technology-based startups backed by the Walton Family Foundation and its new partnership with the Center for Advancing Innovation in Bethesda, Md.
The partners have launched a new SCALE Challenge, a virtual incubator that pairs teams with existing technologies and layers on mentoring, business plan writing and additional training from those in the industry. The teams form small companies innovating for supply chain and logistics. During the challenge, the teams will work with technologies which have already been tested by the likes of NASA, U.S. Government and academia.
Rosemarie Truman, CEO and founder for the Center of Advancing Innovation, told Talk Business & Politics this is the Center’s eighth challenge event. She said in nine years more than 280 new companies have been created from challenge events like SCALE.
She said between $140 million to $160 million dollars are spent annually on research and development, and too often new applications get shelved. Her nonprofit works with partners to hold these challenges to pair individuals and teams with technology sitting idle. She said innovators who have their own ideas about improving the supply chain or logistics can also enter and present those in the opening Elevator Speech, which is phase 1 of the contest. SCALE opened for registration on Tuesday (June 11) and will run through Aug. 20, but Truman said once the teams are filled, the window will close to new entrants and that could happen before the Aug. 20 date.
Working with the Walton Family Foundation on the project began after a meeting between Truman and a Foundation representative during a conference she spoke at last year. She said the meeting was happenstance, but it didn’t take long for the two to see a way they could work together to further their missions.
The Walton Family Foundation has been a supporter of growing technology jobs in Northwest Arkansas, its Home Region. Truman said the two sides put the challenge together in six months and the Walton family has been completely involved in the planning, funding and carrying out the challenge.
Truman said just 0.01% of inventions emerge from laboratories of government, hospitals, and universities. Her mission is to breathe life into that innovation and create new companies that solve challenges and problems. She said the Walton Family Foundation wanted to focus SCALE on supply chain and logistics given the region already has some critical mass in those sectors.
“I am also excited to work with the University of Arkansas on the project,” Truman said.
She said winning teams in the SCALE Challenge will have their awards ceremony demo day April 4 of 2020 in Northwest Arkansas. She said her organization and the Walton Family Foundation will ensure there are ample investors present from around the globe to provide seed money for the startups. She said the judges who pick the final 20 teams will come from around the world and have expertise in technology and the supply chain and logistics areas.
Applicants who want to participate may start the process online at the SCALE Challenge website. Truman said this challenge has added an art element and artists are also encouraged to participate as each team will include one artist to complement the science and technology teammates. Truman credited the Walton Family Foundation for wanting to add artists to the challenge.
“We hear so much about STEM but the Walton Family Foundation understands the value art can also have in innovation and I am so happy to say this Challenge supports STEAM — science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics,” she said.
Inventions in the challenge waiting for teams include robots, autonomous cars, robotic vehicles, electric cars, screening drones for smart agriculture, 3D printers, wireless charging stations and virtual reality applications for reducing retail returns.