Venture Center, LR Chamber launch ‘free office space’ mentoring initiative for local startups

by Talk Business & Politics staff ([email protected]) 580 views 

The Venture Center and the Little Rock Regional Chamber Tuesday (Aug. 13) announced a new business development initiative offering free downtown office space to eight local startups selected to participate in a three-month pre-accelerator mentoring project.

The fresh program, called “Spark!,” is now taking applications from small businesses across central Arkansas through Sept. 4, 2019. In addition to new office digs and other perks at The Venture Center’s headquarters at the Little Rock Technology Park, the startups will receive mentorship and other resources over a 14-week period, organizers said.

“Spark! will empower our local entrepreneurs by equipping them with tools and mentorship through a one-of-a-kind experiential pre-accelerator,” said Jay Chesshir, President & CEO of the Little Rock Regional Chamber. “We have a world-class business community in Little Rock who want to see our economy continue to grow. By partnering with The Venture Center, experts in accelerating entrepreneurial growth and development, we’ll positively impact our small business community and the amazing entrepreneurs who drive it.”

Unlike the other Venture Center’s full-course accelerator programs launched earlier this year for more mature financial technology firms that accepted applications from across the globe, the pool of applicants for the Spark! project will only come from local early stage firms.

Those companies must not only have some operational experience, but they need to have full-time company founders and annual recurring revenue of at least $50,000. Local subject matter experts will also mentor the cohorts for Little Rock Chamber-sponsored project in areas ranging from business pitches and media to legal/Intellectual property and funding, organizers said.

“The Spark! program is an exciting offering for local startups who may not have access to the kind of office space and support needed to effectively grow a business,” said Venture Center Executive Director Wayne Miller. “We’re pleased to partner with the Little Rock Regional Chamber on Spark!, as our collective focus on building the entrepreneurial community will make Little Rock a stronger city with greater opportunities for everyone.”

As noted, the Venture Center already sponsors the highly successful FIS FinTech Accelerator program that has brought global attention to Arkansas. That 12-week program, sponsored by Jacksonville-based Fidelity National Informational Services Inc. (FIS), the world’s largest financial technology services company and the State of Arkansas, completed its fourth iteration last month with Gov. Asa Hutchinson encouraging the 10 fintechs that were selected 225 applications from across the U.S. and 31 countries.

In March, the local nonprofit concluded the first-of-its-kind ICBA ThinkTech Accelerator, which focuses on helping develop early-stage companies that are working on new technology innovations and product development for smaller community banks. The program was first unveiled in late October when the Washington, D.C.-based trade group that represents approximately 5,000 small and mid-sized banks and financial institutions joined with the Venture Center to launch the program in Little Rock.

On Monday, those same sponsors announced the launch of the ICBA ThinkTech 2.0, which began accepting applications this week from U.S. and international early-stage startups and fintech hopefuls from across the U.S. through Sept. 30. Organizers said the cohorts for this program will build upon the success and momentum of the original ICBA ThinkTech Accelerator that mentored eight out of 10 fintech firms selected for the program.

Besides free office space, the Spark! program participants will also have the opportunity to make presentations at the Venture Center’s monthly Pitch ‘N Pint later this year and receive discounted parking and conference room space for meetings. Local startups interested in applying for one of the eight slots in this Chamber-sponsored pre-accelerator initiative can go here.