Post-pandemic, benefits of virtual gatherings are here to stay

by Ashley Wardlow ([email protected]) 335 views 

A conversation about the Northwest Arkansas Technology Summit is a conversation about community: whether it’s the more than 60 committee volunteers whose vision shapes the event each year, our sponsors whose support makes the Summit possible, or the global network of speakers and Summiteers who convene each October.

In 2020, a virtual format allowed us to extend a wider welcome into this community than ever before. Without the capacity constraints of a venue, access to students and educators across the Heartland increased. Presenters from across the world contributed, and our audience grew more diverse, with viewership in 10 countries and 33 states.

On the wave of 2020, we stood up “Tech Support,” the Northwest Arkansas Technology Summit podcast. This platform continues the conversation and shares the gift we were given by 128 thought leaders, who covered everything from emerging retail tech to how we can make the startup ecosystem more equitable.

“Tech Support” continues to evolve and now includes new, original content. If you’re lucky enough to live in Northwest Arkansas, you’ll likely spot some familiar names among the lineup. If you’re new to the region, we’re excited to introduce you to the people who make this such a vibrant, dynamic place to call home.

Recently, I visited with Canem Arkan, founding managing director of Endeavor Northwest Arkansas. The full episode is available wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts, and I invite you to join us for discussions like this one Oct. 17-20 at the 2021 NWA Tech Summit. We’re thrilled to offer a hybrid event this year, carrying forward the best of virtual and marrying it with in-person watch parties and after-hours activities across Northwest Arkansas.

The following is excerpted from the “Tech Support” episode, “Accessibility to Entrepreneurial Capital” featuring Canem Arkan.

On Endeavor’s growth: We are up to 39 markets. We believe fundamentally that entrepreneurship and fantastic, smart, people exist everywhere, but they don’t all have access to the same resources: access to capital, access to mentorship, access to inspiration, access to people who challenge them and encourage them to think bigger.

We want to bring that — those set of support systems — to emerging economies all over the world. And we do that because that’s really, truly how you transform economies, how you create jobs, how you increase wages, how you establish real, true, lasting economic transformational change.

We do that across Latin America. We do that in sub-Saharan Africa and Northern Africa, in the Middle East; we do that in Southeast Asia, and we do that in nine markets in the U.S. that have been traditionally overlooked, like Northwest Arkansas.

On radical feedback and giving back: I’ll just say anecdotally that I think, over time, we have honed and sharpened our skills at providing — I’m going to use the word radical — feedback because it’s feedback that challenges you not just to scale, but to give back.

How do you become the best entrepreneur version of yourself to support your employees, your business, your stakeholders — but then also use that experience to support the next generation of entrepreneurs? So, really, establishing a platform of give-back has been a fundamental part of Endeavor, but I think we’ve really honed it over the last few years.

On redefining emerging markets: Being able to redefine what “emerging market” means has been a big evolution and I’m proud to be able to do that in Northwest Arkansas because this region is growing, and it is going to make a big impact in how we view those “flyover states.”

It’s not going to be an easy path. We certainly see today that there are a lot of challenges to changing the fair or unfair impression people have of Arkansas. We can do it in a variety of different ways. My job is to help people think of Arkansas as a place for entrepreneurship, as a place to grow their businesses, as a place to live and thrive.

Ashley Wardlow is executive director of the Northwest Arkansas Technology Summit. The opinions expressed are those of the author.