Nearly a year ago, I met the Startup America team at SXSWi in Austin. This was the first I had heard of this organization - yet it seemed like I had known them for a while. Their objectives were exactly what I wanted for Arkansas. It was a good fit.
That June I attended the Startup America Summit in Boulder, Colorado. There, I met 'champions' from various regions around the country. I also met Brad Feld. Brad, as it turns out, was born and raised (at least for a little while) in Blytheville, Arkansas. Good things do come from the south and I'm excited about the opportunity to work with Startup Arkansas and share with the rest of the country some amazing stories of entrepreneurship and startups from, as Kyle Sandler puts it "Everywhere Else."
After I got back from Boulder, I began to dive deep into the startup ecosystem in Arkansas. I had a lot to learn. Who were the founders? Where were the sources of funding? What programs, events, and conferences did we have? I was surprisingly astonished to learn that actually, quite a bit is already happening. There's too much to list here, but check it out on StartupArkansas.com/ecosystem.
Then in October, I attended the Startup America Summit in Chicago. I had been to Chicago before, but never with the mission of diving deep into their startup community. Chicago has, as you might guess, a lot going on. But it wasn't always that way. Roughly 6 years ago, several folks got together and said "we can do it." Now, there is quite a bit of activity and a great example of how far Chicago has come is 1871, a co-working, startup space in the heart of downtown in the Merchandise Mart building - a fitting place for a new era of trade and economics.
After returning to Arkansas I dove further into the startup scene and began having meetings with entrepreneurs, service providers, program directors, and potential corporate partners. All, are excited about startups but didn't fully grasp the entire stack of the startup community. We had to find a way to better connect the state and the entrepreneurs that are making a go of it.
Startup Arkansas needed to officially launch, but it needed to be more than just a meeting or networking event. We needed programming and we needed to showcase the amazing startup talent, programs and funding opportunities we have. #ThinkBigArkansas was born.
On Friday, March 1st we are gathering the largest and most diverse group of startups, service providers, education leaders, program directors, venture fund managers, economic develop groups and more at Hendrix College in Conway for a day of 'thinking big.' Brad Feld of Techstars and the Foundry Group, Scott Case of Startup America and co-founder Priceline, Kenny Tomlin co-founder Rockfish, John James co-founder Acumen and host of others from around the state (see agenda) will gather and share their stories and build connections. and most importantly, we'll decide as a group what a few of the major deficits are and we'll work to remedy those. We'll meet later this year and see what progress was made.
Its time to light a fire and really accelerate the development of a strong and vibrant entrepreneurial startup ecosystem in Arkansas.
I'm really excited to meet new people and see what progress the community can make as we move forward. In the end, it isn't about you or I or Startup Arkansas, but rather what we as a community can do to better educate our youth, retain and develop talent, provide greater resources and connect and celebrate our entrepreneurs.
So what do I want from #ThinkBigArkansas? I want to look back five years from now and see things happening. I want to see startups flourishing and academic programs fully integrated with startup activity. I hope that in 5 years, we won't be having conversations on why initiatives like Startup Arkansas are necessary - I hope, as do many, that they will be ingrained in us culturally, that Arkansas will be naturally a place for startups.