64.6 Downtown’s third economic development summit to be held virtual

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 570 views 

64.6 Downtown in partnership with the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith and the PEAK Innovation Center will host the Third Annual Invest Fort Smith during Global Entrepreneurship Week on Nov. 19 that will be conducted over Zoom.

This year’s summit is designed with technology in mind to reach a broader audience with the theme of Awakening the Entrepreneurial Ecosystem, said Talicia Richardson, 64.6 Downtown executive director.

“We took (the COVID-19 pandemic) as an opportunity to think outside the box and use a theme around how to open up economics in Fort Smith with technology. We decided to focus on how companies can use technology to diversify their offerings,” Richardson said.

Following are this year’s summit panel discussion topics.
• Optimizing online presence to stay relevant amid a global pandemic — 1-1:50 p.m.
• The Family Business — 2-2:50 p.m.
• From Business Owner to Entrepreneur — 3-3:50 p.m.
• River Valley Student Entrepreneur Pitch Competition — 4-5 p.m.

Those attending the first session will hear from entrepreneurs who used technology to pivot during the pandemic and fostered new business opportunities through technology and innovation. It is geared towards business leaders, communication professionals, marketing/graphic design students and professionals, organizations looking to improve or begin online customer engagement and businesses looking to improve their digital, social media and online presence.

Session two will look at the theory and practice of operating a family-owned business while developing a legacy for generations to come. The session is for small business owners, start-ups, families transitioning their businesses to their children, heirs acquiring family businesses and individuals interested in collaborating with family-owned businesses.

The third session will consist of personal stories of the evolution of entrepreneurs with a look at what it takes to contribute to the entrepreneurial ecosystem of Fort Smith and why its development is important.

The River Valley Student Entrepreneur Pitch Competition will feature student entrepreneurs in eighth through 12th grade throughout the area who are ready to launch a product and/or service. The winner of the competition will earn a scholarship to UAFS to help develop and build their ideas.

“We really want to include all the area schools. We want any eighth through 12th-grader in the (Arkansas River) valley who wants to participate in this,” Richardson said.

Fort Smith Public Schools’ Peak Innovation Center is a place where career and college-bound students may earn industry-specific certifications to help create a future workforce. Beyond high school students, the center will be utilized to meet the retraining needs of existing workers through partnerships with Fort Smith Adult Education, UAFS and the Regional Workforce Development Group. Once open, the center will serve not just Fort Smith Public Schools, but the 22 school districts in the Guy Fenter Education Cooperative, said Dr. Gary Udouj, director of Career Education Center and District Innovation for FSPS.

Students have until Nov. 12 to submit their 60-second video entrepreneur pitch to Peak, and the judges will select the finalists, Udouj said.

64.6 Downtown is a non-profit organization founded in 2015 created to act as a catalyst for economic development in downtown Fort Smith through creative place-making, events, property development and art with inspiring and engaging partners. The programming of Invest Fort Smith was designed initially to bring attention to downtown Fort Smith economic development opportunities with an outcome of bringing awareness to downtown’s impact on the City and Region.

“In 2018, we borrowed from the playbook of the Springdale’s Invest Springdale event, which was a huge success. Our first year was how to get the community excited. It was high energy with high level executives,” Richardson said.

The summit had a high turnout and received lots of positive feedback. In that feedback were requests for something in the evening that more people could attend, Richardson said. In 2019, 64.6 Downtown focused on panel discussions in the evening, including one with mayors from Greenwood, Van Buren, Alma and Fort Smith talking about how to strengthen each city and the region as a whole by working together, she said.

This year, 64.6 Downtown looked at what was being done around the country and how to be most effective during the pandemic.

“We are excited to be part of (Global Entrepreneurship Network’s Global Entrepreneurship Week) and to see the best practices for utilizing technology,” Richardson said.

The Global Entrepreneurship Network operates a platform of projects and programs in 170 countries aimed at making it easier for anyone, anywhere to start and scale a business. With a focus on how those in the area are using technology to diversify what they can do and how they can do, Richardson said it can open doors for many area entrepreneurs who can make a profound mark, not only locally and throughout the state, but internationally as well.

“This pandemic may open opportunities to closet entrepreneurs looking for an opportunity, and this summit can help show them how to take steps,” Richardson said.

She said UAFS support in the summit has been “phenomenal.”

“Their partnership shows their commitment of the community with technology and faculty engagement of Invest Fort Smith,” Richardson said.

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