The Little Rock Venture Center kicked off the city’s first pre-accelerator program on Wednesday (Sept. 18), providing free office space and 14 weeks of training and mentorship to help boost the fortunes of six local early stage startups.
The Venture Center, in conjunction with the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce, announced a new “Spark!” business development initiative at the Little Rock Technology Park nearly a month following the earlier success of the FIS FinTech and ICBA ThinkTech accelerator programs.
Unlike those full-course accelerator “fintech” programs launched for more mature financial technology firms that accepted applications from across the globe, the pool of applicants for the Spark project was culled only from local early stage firms.
In announcing the six inaugural cohorts, Venture Center Executive Director Wayne Miller told the participants that the program was started in Little Rock to fill a necessary gap for early stage startups that need help getting to the next stage of growth.
“It is hard for big companies to work with early stage (startups),” Miller said from the Venture Center’s sixth floor headquarters at the Tech Park. “I always use the metaphor that there’s this giant battleship and here we are as entrepreneurs and startups knocking on this big boat trying to get somebody’s attention.
“Where we found our place is acting as the people on the side of the boat opening the door and saying, ‘we can help translate’ and help these startups come aboard,” continued Miller.
“Little Rock is rich with learning and mentorship opportunities for entrepreneurs,” added Little Rock Chamber President and CEO Jay Chesshir. “The companies participating in Spark! have great potential and are uniquely driven to grow their businesses. Working with The Venture Center and Spark! cohort to enrich our small business ecosystem is exciting for Little Rock’s future.”
Besides free office space over the next three months, 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.
To keep up with the Spark! cohort, check their progress and their stories at www.venturecenter.co/spark. Below are the six cohort firms participating in the Venture Center’s pre-accelerator program. They are:
• Cyclone Technology, founded by Andrew Ross and Phil Baxter, offers computer hardware and software management tools for small business owners.
• Idestini, led by Abby Sims, develops custom business solutions and software to help companies simplify manual processes to be more productive, eliminate mistakes, save time, and reduce costs.
• Readthelabl, which produces shelf-stable pasta type sauces with healthy ingredients. The founder and CEO is Kent Wood.
• Listing Village provides web platforms for realtors that include search maps and Facebook ads. The company is led by Matthew Young.
• SYI Construction Company, founded by Katrina Smith, is a woman-owned construction firm that focuses on residential remodeling.
• Apex Dental Education, led by Rachael Linebarier, offers an accelerated career education and training program for dental assistants.