There's a lot going on in Arkansas, here are just a few things.
For the past few months, I've been working on an initiative with Josh Clemence and Steven Trotter called Startup Arkansas (@StartupArkansas). A year and a half or so ago, Steve and Jean Case with the Case Foundation, the Kauffman Foundation and Brad Feld of TechStars and the Foundry launched the Startup America Partnership. Startup Arkansas is a region (aka part of the Startup America Partnership) who's mission is to better connect the state.
Yesterday, the ARK Challenge Accelerator in Fayetteville (part of the Global Accelerator Network) held its first Demo Day at Crystal Bridges in Bentonville. 15 startup teams presented and two were selected by a group of angel investors to receive $150,000 each (via a convertible note) to continue building and executing their startup. Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe threw a curve ball and announced that the AEDC (Arkansas Economic Development Commission) would contribute $150,000 so the angel mentors could select a third team. This was a fantastic signal from state government that they are willing and actively supporting startups! (Read: http://techcrunch.com/2012/11/08/the-ark-challenge-demo-day/ and http://www.thecitywire.com/node/25026#.UJ0buLQml5i )
In addition to groups adding more programming, mentorship, and forming of angel and vc groups - we need to do a better job at connecting founders, resources, students, and others so everyone knows what's going on and can benefit from each other. This is where Startup Arkansas comes in. Startup Arkansas should be thought of as a platform, the connective tissue tying the state together.
After the first of the year, we'll be launching a new website that will enable better communication and opportunity to plug people in, especially those that are students or people who work in remote areas of the state.
Startup Arkansas will have a formal "launch week" in February. We should have the dates chosen soon (stay tuned to @StartupArkansas). There will be keynotes, workshops, town hall discussions, and networking events in each of the three regions (North East, North West, and Central). The goal of the launch week is formally announce Startup Arkansas, but also to draw people together to start having conversations about what is needed in the ecosystem and to educate us all on things that are already happening. More to come.
In March, Brad Feld will be in central Arkansas to speak on startups and for a book signing. His latest book "Startup Communities" is about growing the ecosystem. We'll be doing several events throughout the day ending in a talk and networking event in Conway that evening. More to come on this as well. We'll be making the formal announcement later this month. (stay tuned to @StartupArkansas)
Dr. Chenyi Hu, UCA Computer Science Chair, is staring a senior level seminar class at UCA on "finding the business opportunities in data." Its open to computer science and business majors. It starts this spring and will meet weekly on Wednesday evenings for 3 hours. Each week/topic will be taught by someone from the real-word. The objections are: (1) help students identify and carry out business opportunities based on data (2) connect and help mentor high-achieving students and (3) provide students with "real world" experience and knowledge from people who manage "big data" every day. Hopefully, this is something we can replicate at the U of A, UALR, ASU and others.
Many things are happening. Many more things are to come. I'm looking forward to using my new blog to share projects I'm involved with and startup related news in Arkansas.