Entrepreneurship is not easy. It takes grit, vision, and perseverance.
Entrepreneurship is especially hard for people in the Heartland. The Heartland is defined as the “central or most important part of a country,” although you would be hard-pressed to find a Heartland entrepreneur who reports feeling more important than their coastal counterparts.
Heartland entrepreneurs receive only 20 percent of all venture capital, with women and entrepreneurs of color receiving only 10 percent of all VC funds. Crunchbase’s America’s Mighty Middle defines the Heartland as the 25 states in the middle of the country. In the last decade, these states combined received $92.6 billion in investments, of which only 3 percent went to female-only founder teams, 7 percent to female and male teams, and 90 percent to male-only founder teams. To put that in perspective, Pitchbook and NCVA’s Venture Monitor reports that $136.5 billion was invested across the nation in 2019 alone. The numbers become more dire when we look specifically at Arkansas. In the last decade, Arkansas received $350 million in VC funds, with approximately $35 million going to underrepresented founders.
But you already knew this. The entrepreneurial talent in Arkansas is America’s best-kept secret, and we need to take a page from the founder’s playbook and approach advocating for ourselves with as much grit and determination as they do when building their companies. But like the beauty of a chorus, our message is stronger when we work together. The Coalition to Advance Arkansas Entrepreneurship is a non-partisan, collaborative working group that advocates for equitable access to resources for Arkansas entrepreneurs. Comprised of startup champions and civic leaders, this coalition will address issues like inequitable access to capital, prohibitive student visa restrictions, archaic SEC rules and other topics that negatively impact entrepreneurs in the Heartland. Utilizing the Startup Junkie and Conductor’s Arkansas Entrepreneurship Policy Map as a guide, each monthly session will end with tangible action items to collectively move the needle forward for entrepreneurs in our state.
While the Coalition to Advance Arkansas Entrepreneurship is a relatively new initiative, Arkansas has already begun to set the standard for statewide collaboration. Global Entrepreneurship Week is a worldwide celebration of small business that is held in 170+ countries. To encourage more grassroots support, GEW enlisted Community Organizers to serve as boots on the ground to drum up local participation. Not surprisingly (to us), Arkansas is leading every other state in the nation in the number of Community Organizers with a whopping 20, compared to the next state who reports a measly eight. With events focused on the ecosystem, education, policy, and inclusion, Arkansas has garnered attention on the global stage, showing that despite our small investments we are still large in entrepreneurship.
The collaborative kick-off with GEW followed by sustained advocacy by the Coalition to Advance Arkansas Entrepreneurship will serve to strengthen the fabric of the ecosystem and grow our voices from individual requests for change to a booming roar demanding attention. We will no longer tolerate being overlooked by investors. We will no longer stay in the shadow of the coastal states. When we come together to support our entrepreneurs, the world will acknowledge what we’ve known all along – that the Heartland is truly the most important part of the country.
Tiffany Henry is the Director of Entrepreneurial Communities at the Conductor.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in op-eds are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of Arkansas Money & Politics or About You Media Group.