Magazine September 2018

Startups, Small Business Keep Arkansas Economy Strong

Mike Preston

By Mike Preston, Executive Director | Arkansas Economic Development Commission

Mike Preston

Arkansas has proven itself time and time again as a place where businesses grow and succeed. Most people know the state is home to the world’s largest company, Walmart, which has made the Fortune 500 list 14 times since 2002, including topping the list for the past six years. Other companies making the 2018 list include Tyson Foods (80), Murphy USA (279), J.B. Hunt Transport Services (395), Dillard’s (439) and Windstream (474). All of these companies were small startups at one time.

But the startup culture in The Land of Opportunity goes back decades before these businesses formed their roots. Rose Law Firm was founded in 1820 by Robert Crittenden and Chester Ashley, about 16 years before Arkansas became a state. It lays claim as the oldest law firm west of the Mississippi.

Today, 99.3 percent of businesses in the state are small businesses, and nearly half of all employed Arkansans work for small businesses. Fostering a culture that’s supportive to startups is vital for economic stability and growth in Arkansas.

The entrepreneurial spirit created by Crittenden and Ashley, as well as our homegrown Fortune 500 founders, has led to a 21st century startup climate rooted in technology as a new generation of visionaries seeks to make its mark on the world.

What’s more, southern hospitality in The Natural State extends beyond personal kindness and into the business realm. Cooperation over competition helps startups succeed in Arkansas, and the availability of information, resources and networking online has made becoming an entrepreneur in Arkansas easier than ever before.

Start-up ecosystems like Arkansas Made, Arkansas Innovation Hub and Innovate Arkansas bridge the gap between innovation and commercialization, while accelerators like The ARK Challenge are funding and supporting new tech companies. Through a statewide network of partners and targeted tax incentive programs, the Arkansas Economic Development Commission is committed to empowering start-ups and visionaries with open collaboration, unparalleled resources, beneficial policies and a willingness to get things done.

Innovate Arkansas, a program of Arkansas Economic Development Commission, is responsible for the acceleration of technology companies in Arkansas. Innovate Arkansas provides strategic consulting in three areas:

1. The acceleration of companies through active strategy and management,
2. The development of clients’ capital structure and to the capital provider network in the state, and
3. The development of talent to meet the needs of the companies.

Since its inception in 2008, Innovate Arkansas has assisted more than 530 companies that have created 700-plus jobs with average annual salaries of more than $50,000 per year. Additionally, it has helped to raise more than $325 million in capital for its client companies and helped establish five of the state’s six private venture capital funds. It’s just one of many of AEDC’s entrepreneurial partners that also include:

• Arkansas Capital Corporation Group
• Arkansas Innovation Hub
• Arkansas Research Alliance
• Arkansas Risk Capital Matching Fund
• Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center
• Arkansas Venture Center

Arkansas is also home to several technology incubators throughout the state.

The Catalyst Innovation Center is housed with the Arkansas biosciences Institute at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro. It works specifically with bioscience, engineering and technology startups. The center has almost 8,000 square feet of combined wet-lab and office space that includes 14 flexible laboratories, nine offices, and an executive conference room.

The Arkansas Research and Technology Park at the University of Arkansas is focused on innovation and technology development in association with the university. The facility has almost 300,000 square feet of research-and-development capacity. University researchers are helping to form new companies in the areas of biotechnology, nanomaterials, and power electronics.

BioVentures is a technology commercialization organization and startup incubator focused on promoting the biomedical technology industry for Arkansas and translating research into products that benefit human health. BioVentures links healthcare research minds to global markets in order to advance Arkansas’ scientific and economic development. Earlier this year, Bioventures announced it is collaborating with AEDC, Winrock Interntional, Arkansas Heart Hospital and UAMS to expand Health InnovatAR, a program that supports and accelerates the development of startup companies in the health care industry.

And, finally, Arkansas is becoming a hub for financial technology startups, thanks to the Venture Center FinTech Accelerator program. The state partners with the accelerator and global financial services company FIS to help identify and launch the development of early-stage financial technology ventures. During the Accelerator’s third annual Demo Day in July, 10 startups chosen from 280 applicants from more than 45 countries presented their work and pitched ideas to 450 potential investors, community leaders and representatives from financial institutions and other companies. It’s a great way to promote the advantages of doing business in Arkansas to companies that haven’t yet put down roots.

Arkansas is not always the first place that comes to mind when starting a business. We’re trying to change that perception. Arkansas has consistently been named one of the top states for business because of our talented workforce, infrastructure and our low cost of doing business. Our entrepreneurs have known this for decades. It’s why they have had the tools and resources to change the landscapes of their respective industries, from retail to transportation to technology. Now, the nation – and the world – are taking note.

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