The SCALE Challenge designed to plant 20 new technology-based startups in Northwest Arkansas if off and running, but just 40 teams have signed up as of Tuesday (July 16), according to Rosemarie Truman, CEO and founder of one the partners in the virtual incubator challenge: the Center of Advancing Innovation.
Truman was in Northwest Arkansas this week and held two information sessions in Fayetteville and Bentonville to try and drum up more interest in the ongoing SCALE Challenge which opened for registration on June 11.
She said ideally there will be 100 to 200 teams which are whittled down to 20 finalists over the next eight months. About 35 entrepreneurs attended each session and there were several questions for Truman, who seemed confident after the meetings that a large percentage of those attending would sign up.
“I will come back if I need to and I plan a trip to Little Rock as well,” she said. “When the entrepreneurs hear more details about the opportunities of this challenge, they are usually in.”
Among the attendees at the Bentonville session, one was formerly head of supply chain diversity at Walmart and the other was an electrical engineer who has a goal of running her own business. They each were mulling whether to join individually and be matched to a team or if they should try to assemble teams of their own.
Truman said it’s important to evaluate the requirements of the program to ensure they can be achieved. There is no cost to participate in the program and the benefits include being a part of innovation and technology that can radically improve the supply chain.
Truman said the spent nine years developing the concept of the challenges. She worked with the Walton Family Foundation to put the local program together, and it’s the eighth such incubator her organization has done in the past four years
Ross DeVol, CEO of Heartland Forward and a fellow of the Walton Family Foundation, spoke briefly at the session in Bentonville. He said the incubator and the end result of 20 tech-related companies launching in Northwest Arkansas at the program’s culmination in April 2020, will likely have a substantial impact on the local economy.
He said similar incubators are also important because economic activity tends to cluster around regions where research and intellectual property exist. He said starting new firms, scaling them and eventually reaching critical mass is no easy feat. But, he’s confident of the talent in the local region and also expects to see entrepreneurs from around the globe take part in the SCALE Challenge.
Truman said the program puts entrepreneurial teams in touch with patented innovations and they will look for new applications of the innovation. Each invention in the program deals with supply chain and 25% of them are NASA projects, with the rest coming from academia. Truman’s team has already done much of the legwork to ensure these innovations have all the essential elements along with input from the inventors themselves.
She said each team will have an average of 8 to 10 members and must include legal expertise and an artist. For individuals who want to take part in the challenge, she urged them to sign up and get started right away. They will be paired with a team. The program has already been underway for a month. She said registration will close Aug. 20.
Truman said she already has commitments from 60 investors who plan to take part in the final ceremony in April. She said many of them will also act as advisors to teams throughout the eight-month program.