Archive for April, 2015

Startup America Summit: Rocking Little Rock!

Posted on: April 12th, 2015 | by Bill Kenney

Date: April 8-9, 2015
Location: Arkansas Venture Center, Little Rock, Arkansas
Host: Lee Watson and his team

It’s been a great couple of days of learning at the spring Startup America Summit. The event was filled end-to-end with valuable learning and connecting.

About Startup America
Startup America (formerly known as Startup America Partnerships) was created through the Obama administration’s Jobs Act to spur economic growth through entrepreneurship. The organization is made up of state and regional champions as well as a variety of entrepreneurship ecosystem stakeholders who gather periodically to share best practices and to find opportunities for collaboration.

What’s the Entrepreneurship Community Like in Little Rock
The impression after two fast paced days is that the entrepreneurship community is coalescing and evolving quickly in Little Rock. The summit was kicked of by Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson and Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola who both shared their thoughts about the importance of entrepreneurship to the economy and citizen independence. Governor Hutchinson cited his administration’s focus on information technology skill development at the K-12 level and their financial support for entrepreneur ecosystem infrastructure entities such as the Arkansas Venture Center as examples of Arkansas’s progress.

Julie Lenzer Kirk, Director of the EDA Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship and Chris Masingill, Federal Co-Chair of the Delta Regional Authority then talked about a variety of initiatives and opportunities of both national and regional significance. Julie walked through the work of the National Council of Innovation & Entrepreneurship, some specific regional strategies, an Innovation Demo Day coming soon at the White House and an ecosystem’s hierarchy of needs. Chris’s comments focused more on some specific initiatives of the Delta Regional Authority to help entrepreneurs connect to resources.

Jimmy Moses and Moses Tucker a couple of Little Rock real estate developers shared wonderful insights into their vision for creating a more accessible downtown. They highlighted several recent projects that appear to be great additions to the city. Their passion for developing a community where residents work, live and play was evident.

We also heard about several Arkansas Venture Center success stories including Merger Match and Apptegy. Merger Match helps companies successfully assess the non-financial risks and opportunities in acquiring another company. Apptegy is a software company focused on products to help better engage audiences.

No visit to Little Rock would be complete without a visit to the President Clinton Library. It’s an impressive structure that adds significant pizzaz to the local skyline. As you would expect, the walking tour reveals many of the accomplishments of the Clinton Presidency.

Organizations such as the Little Rock Chamber of Commerce, Little Rock Tech Park, Arkansas Capital, Arkansas Small Business Development Centers, Made by Few, Innovate Arkansas, Arkansas Fellowship, Noble Impact and Startup Junkie Consulting were represented on a panel that gave a good overview of the vibrant resources and support organizations that make up the Arkansas entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Trey Bowles from the Dallas Entrepreneur Center and Jess Knox from Blackstone Accelerates Growth in Maine shared their thoughts with a room full of local leaders on their impressions of the remarkable status of entrepreneurship in Little Rock and they challenged each individual and organization to double-down their investment.

Arkansas Venture Center
Just settling into their new space on East Markham in Little Rock, the AVC is perfectly located in the center of town with easy access to many amenities and resources. The facility itself is all on the 1st floor and has direct access from the street. There is ample coworking, private office and community space. The high ceilings and huge windows give the space tons of natural light. The team has done a great job to amplify the cool factor of this space.

Take-A-Ways from the Summit
The conversation between Startup America Champions both in the formal and informal settings were as compelling as ever. Formally the group invested much time to frame its relaunch and shared vision. We set preliminary goals, mapped out the next several months of activities and broke down much of the responsibility between and executive director role and a handful of committees.

Informal discussions included the potential formation of interest groups within Startup America. These groups would explore certain topics of interest to its members such as acceleration and incubation, mentor development, community building, sustainability, etc… There were also some preliminary conversations about building pathways to connect ventures, mentors and resources inter-community.

The path ahead is very bright for Startup America as we focus to engage and equip community builders throughout the United States with the knowledge and tools that will enable them to foster strong and vibrant economies that are accessible to all citizens.

A next Startup America meeting has been planned for Portland, ME from June 29-30. This conveniently is immediately following Maine Startup & Create Week which goes from June 22-28. More details to come.