It takes an ecosystem

by Ashley Wardlow ([email protected]) 535 views 

A key differentiator that sets the Northwest Arkansas Tech Summit apart from other peer conferences is our focus on emerging trends in the tech space and startups and the ecosystem available to support them.

That focus is fitting when considering our region’s unique entrepreneurial legacy and the preeminent founders who helped make this place what it is. As our community has grown, so too has Northwest Arkansas’ entrepreneurial support network.

New to the Northwest Arkansas startup toolkit is the Greater Bentonville Area Chamber of Commerce’s Bentonville Economic Development (BECON) initiative, supported by a website that serves as a clearinghouse of information for all-things economic development in Bentonville. In addition to a startup and small business resources guide, the site features SizeUp Bentonville. This complimentary on-demand tool aggregates data from hundreds of public and proprietary sources for small to midsize businesses doing market research.

The Northwest Arkansas Council recently introduced the Northwest Arkansas Talent Network, empowering a global pool of top-tier job candidates to signal their interest to more than 80 local companies. This resource is available at no charge to employers and prospective employees. Be on the lookout, too, for the launch of a council-piloted virtual talent event later this summer.

The University of Arkansas’ Bentonville-based education and research hub, the Collaborative, an offshoot of I3R, will be activated by multiple entities across the University of Arkansas that are strongly tied to industries in Bentonville. The university’s workforce development arms, the Global Campus and Walton College Executive Education program, will relocate to a large training facility at the Collaborative. The Sustainability Consortium, which supports the development of metrics tools and initiatives driving environmental impact, will also have a presence. Offices within the Division of Economic Development, such as Corporate and Foundation Relations and the Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation, and the Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center will partner to launch business incubation initiatives through a new incubation facility.

Ashley Wardlow

WeWork Labs Northwest Arkansas has quickly become a go-to for early-stage startups and small businesses looking for remote work solutions and access to a global community of like-minded entrepreneurs. Later this year, Ledger will contribute an additional 230,000 square feet of adaptable office and retail space to the mix — all in a six-story, entirely bikeable building. The startup landscape will change again when Common launches its Remote Work Hub in Bentonville, providing at least 300 remote workers with space to live, work and socialize.

As we consider opportunities for in-person gatherings in the back half of the year, it’s encouraging to see regional favorites embracing new models for building community. Endeavor NWA recently launched the third season of its podcast, “The Multiplier Effect,” and Plug and Play Northwest Arkansas regularly hosts virtual sessions and summits that introduce companies in their portfolio to a global audience. Plug and Play’s newest push for regional development will be in outdoor recreation. They will partner with local organizations and companies to launch an Innovation in Outdoor Recreation Showcase on Oct. 22. The Fuel Accelerator’s Demo Day will be hybrid this year to provide cohort participants with greater visibility. Be sure to save the date (Oct. 21) if you’d like a peek at what’s next among companies using AI to increase enterprise efficiencies.

This year’s Northwest Arkansas Tech Summit will focus on entrepreneurs, too. Venture Noire will lead a track dedicated to making the startup space more equitable, and an Endeavor NWA-hosted happy hour will help founders make the most of mentor relationships. What we’re proudest of, though, is that we will once again be able to make access to the Tech Summit complimentary to entrepreneurs across the heartland, thanks to the support of our sponsors and key stakeholders.

If the adage was “it takes a village,” perhaps the update for a 21st century economy should be “it takes an ecosystem.”

Ashley Wardlow is executive director of the Northwest Arkansas Technology Summit hosted by the Greater Bentonville Area Chamber of Commerce. The opinions expressed are those of the author.