Northwest Arkansas is home to Razorback sports, the nationally recognized Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, and some spectacular cycling trails. It’s even made the top five in U.S. News and World Report’s “Best Places to Live in the U.S.” list for the last four years.
To complement the region’s low cost of living and various cultural amenities are its three Fortune 500 companies: Walmart, Tyson Foods and J.B. Hunt.
The area’s impressive business community is constantly expanding and this growth comes, in part, from the introduction of innovative startups.
One nonprofit organization in particular, the Center for Advancing Innovation, does exactly this by conducting its Startup Challenges – one of which is coming to Northwest Arkansas.
The SCALE (Supply Chain and Logistic Enterprises) Challenge is the product of a partnership between the CAI and the Walton Family Foundation with the ultimate goal of launching multiple new companies in Northwest Arkansas through an exciting contest.
The challenge is completely virtual and the application to participate is open globally to any person with a hard-working and determined entrepreneurial spirit. After applying and being accepted, these applicants spend the next eight months on one of many teams that will each work to advance their choice of an invention, some of which are ideas submitted by applicants and others which are pre-selected by industry experts.
“We have already picked 20 inventions,” says CEO Rosemarie Truman. “25 percent of the inventions came from NASA; they are working inventions.”
Other inventions included in the pre-selected category are an electric car and a drone
The teams will go through a rigorous process unique to challenge participants that CAI has coined the Concurrent Accelerator Training. After the teams, made up of about 10 members, have been formed, they will begin working to promote and advance their invention through creating business plans and delivering pitches. Throughout this process, they will be simultaneously working with mentors and experts who act as guides and teachers throughout the challenge all the way until April 2020, when the 20 winning teams will be announced and invited to Bentonville, Arkansas to be recognized at a ceremony and begin applying for licensing for their start-up.
“We are giving them the inventions, we’re giving them the education,” Truman says. “We are interested in people willing to do the hard work.”
This is CAI’s eighth challenge to ever be orchestrated. Truman says it’s the very first of its kind in Arkansas. However, it’s also unique in another way – it will incorporate the vision of one of the Walton Family Foundation leaders, Alice Walton, to have an artist on every high-tech team. Truman also mentioned the importance of remembering how Steve Jobs was inspired by calligraphy and how art form has played a big role in influencing the state of Apple as it is now.
“Alice Walton’s vision to have an artist on every team in our challenge is brilliant, and no organization that we know of, because we looked high and low everywhere in the world to see if we could find [one], systematically puts artists on every startup team. We don’t know of any,” says Truman.
The challenge’s success in participation thus far is also unlike anything CAI has experienced before.
“We have had a 200 percent enrollment rate than any other challenge we’ve ever conducted, ever,” says Truman. So far, five countries are represented.
Truman calls Arkansas “ground-zero” for supply chain.
“We plan on bringing a lot of investors to Northwest Arkansas so they can actually fund a company with a term-sheet that makes sense,” Truman says. “It’s not going to be a startup, it’s going to be a speed up because of the ecosystem [Arkansas] has cultivated and galvanized, [it will] be able to nurture these companies; it’s the perfect spot in the entire world”
The contest also appeals to the diversity of Northwest Arkansas. According to the NWA Council website, the region will be around 18 percent Hispanic/Latino by 2020.
“The average for the United States for the number of cofounded companies by women is 10 percent, cofounded by minorities is even less. [CAI’s] cofounded rate is 60 percent cofounded by women and 80% cofounded by minorities,” says Truman.
This is far from the only thing that stands out about CAI, whose full list of awards can be found here.
“This is going to be a world-class type of challenge that I think is going to really be the most prominent one we’ve had so far,” Truman says.