The Delta Regional Authority (DRA) awarded Winrock International a $675,785 grant to help fund the Delta Innovation Fund (I-Fund) program through October 2021. Modeled on the National Science Foundation’s I-Corps program, the I-Fund is a proof-of-concept business training program designed to assist potential start-up companies emerging from universities and communities across the DRA’s eight-state, 252-county territory.
“Delta Regional Authority’s mission is to support economic development by making investments into industry-driven workforce training and human capital of the Delta region,” said Delta Regional Authority Federal Co-Chairman Chris Caldwell. “The Delta I-Fund echoes this mission by providing a platform to foster homegrown talent, support innovation, and train entrepreneurs to positively impact growth in our communities.”
The goal is to develop innovative, sustainable businesses to enhance the entrepreneurial environment, boost economic development and job growth, and retain talented young people in the territory. To date, the I-Fund has worked with 82 companies from 20 communities. Winrock has trained 166 entrepreneurs through the I-Fund, including 61 women, 69 minority entrepreneurs and 61 from communities with populations less than 100,000 people.
“After two years of laying a foundation for a regional approach to supporting innovative ideas within the Delta Regional Authority territory, we are proud to continue partnering on an even more robust program that reaches the territory’s most marginalized communities,” said Amy Hopper, Winrock’s manager of the I-Fund.
Over the next two years, the I-Fund will work with 40 additional innovators. The first class of ten innovators will start in March 2020. Each participant will receive 12 weeks of virtual one-on-one training, professional guidance from an industry-specific mentor and up to $7,500 for customized technical assistance, which can be used for market research, prototyping and patenting.
Following training in lean startup methodology and business plan development, teams will complete an intensive customer discovery process to evaluate demand for their products and services. Teams will then refine their innovations based on market demand and may emerge ready to establish a formal company and begin commercial operations.
Winrock’s partners in the project are Southeast Missouri State University (Cape Girardeau, Mo.), The University of West Alabama (Livingston, Ala.), Innovate Mississippi (Jackson, Miss.), Louisiana State University (Baton Rouge, La.), PPGMR Law (Little Rock, Ark), Thoma Thoma (Little Rock, Ark.) and the University of Arkansas Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation (Fayetteville, Ark.).
These partners will recruit teams to participate in the accelerator training, provide space and related support to host trainings, pitch competitions, opening and closing events, and other cohort-related events, and contribute in-kind support and expertise in the form of instructors, mentors, and administrative and logistical support. Additional partners will be named once the program has kicked off.