Deadline Approaches For Applicants To The ARK Challenge Accelerator For Tech Startups
New Tech Accelerator In Northwest Arkansas Offers Rare Access To Top Minds In Retail, Transportation/Logistics And Food Processing
One of only 20 national projects selected by the Department of Commerce Jobs and Innovation Acceleration Challenge to advance regional competitiveness, The ARK Challenge is a recently launched mentorship-driven business accelerator program for technology startups. A full member of The Global Accelerator Network, The ARK Challenge is open to startups worldwide. Interested startup founders can apply online anytime at http://arkchallenge.org through June 17th, 2012.
“All of a sudden there is something very sexy about being a startup. There used to be a stigma of not being with a ‘real’ company,” said ARK Challenge Mentor Phoebe Espiritu. Espiritu is Manager of the HackStars program of TechStars New York City, and she has been named one of 25 women driving New York’s Tech Scene.
“Now there is a lot more prestige in being a misfit or a renegade. Obviously there’s something nice and validating about having capital.”
Up to 15 selected companies will receive over $18K each in seed funding, promotion, invaluable networking with advisors and potential funders, as well as intensive mentoring from a group of community-based and national mentors during a 14-week entrepreneurial bootcamp starting August 2012. Each of the selected companies also will benefit from services of Innovate Arkansas, a program of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission and Winrock International that encourages technology-based innovations and job creation in Arkansas. Two of the selected startups will be eligible for an additional $150K in funding.
The ARK Challenge’s 60+ mentors include:
- Collins Hemingway, best known for partnering with Microsoft founder Bill Gates on the #1 best-seller Business @ the Speed of Thought
- Jinhee Kim, founder of Snapette, a mobile app for snap-happy fashionistas and a 500 startups co.
- Dan Sanker, CEO of CaseStack, recognized as “One of the Best Places to Work” in the County, #1 in the Deloitte Technology Fast50, #1 as the fastest-growing private company by the Los Angeles Business Journal
- Rick Webb, Sr. Vice President, Global Business Processes, of Walmart
- Greg Lee, Former Chief Administrative Officer and President of Tyson Foods International
Inspired by innovation across the heartland—Detroit, Austin, Raleigh and Silicon Prairie of the Midwest, Northwest Arkansas is cultivating its own startup ecosystem, building on its core strengths. The longstanding home to the corporate headquarters of Walmart, Tyson Foods, and J.B. Hunt Transport Services, Northwest Arkansas is recognized worldwide for leadership and world-class expertise in the retail, food and logistics industries.
Additionally, The ARK Challenge has conducted interviews with representatives in each of these key industry clusters to identify the newest playgrounds for innovation for technology entrepreneurs. The resulting five-page technology assessment report is available for download here.
So, why Northwest Arkansas?
- Forbes named Fayetteville, Arkansas, a Best Place for Businesses and Careers.
- Travel + Leisure named Bentonville, Arkansas, one of the hottest travel destinations for 2012.
- The region, relatively insulated from the macroeconomy, offers a high quality of life and low cost of living.
- Northwest Arkansas is home to Fortune 500 and 1000 companies, as well as thousands of their big-brand suppliers.
- In 2011, Arkansas was cited by CNBC as having the lowest overall cost of doing business in the nation.
- The Kauffman Foundation ranks Arkansas as the 15th most entrepreneurial state in 2011 in the current issue of its annual report, the Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity. The calculated index for Arkansas is at 0.34%, which means there are 340 entrepreneurs per 100,000 adults per month in the Natural State.
- The nation is seeing progress, innovation clusters and cultural revival in the Midwest and American South.
- Northwest Arkansas is the sixth fastest growing region in the country, surrounded by the beautiful Ozark Mountains.
- The Northwest Arkansas MSA has grown 35% since 2000 and now numbers more than 463,000 residents—the fastest growing population in Middle America.
- Northwest Arkansas is a hub at the center of a regional market including Dallas, Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Kansas City, St. Louis, Little Rock, and Memphis metropolitan areas.
- Northwest Arkansas has a welcoming entrepreneurial culture with quick-start networking opportunities.
- Northwest Arkansas sees a high degree of philanthropic engagement from its citizenry, as well as creative and business communities.
- Northwest Arkansas has the most billionaires per capita than anywhere in the United States.
- As part of a regional strategic economic development plan, Northwest Arkansas has an intentional focus onnurturing mobile and Internet startups.
In the true spirit of the aphorism, “A rising tide lifts all boats,” The ARK Challenge is a coordinated initiative that brings together non-profit organizations, academic institutions, government agencies, private investors, entrepreneurs and more, including Winrock International, University of Arkansas, NorthWest Arkansas Community College, Economic Development Administration, Small Business Administration, Employment & Training Administration, Fund for Arkansas’ Future, Gravity Ventures and Arkansas Development Finance Authority. Just as the recent Big Omaha conference, which attracted over 600 attendees from 27 states and three countries, exhibited so poignantly, a deliberate focus on entrepreneurship, innovation and collaboration is integral for economic development and job creation in cities within the flyover states.
Grant Tennille, Executive Director of Arkansas Economic Development Commission, summed up the importance at the The ARK Challenge accelerator program at the grand opening of The Iceberg Coworking facility in downtown Fayetteville, Arkansas. ”The best entrepreneurs that America has ever known come from here. This space and this project are going to generate the next generation.”