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Startup Junkie's 'Veterans to Venture Leaders' Set for Oct. 16


Fayetteville's Startup Junkie Consulting has scheduled a workshop for military veterans who are entrepreneurs or aspire to be.

"Veterans to Venture Leaders" is set for Thursday, Oct. 16, from 3:30-4:30 p.m. from Centerspace in the East Square Plaza on the square in downtown Fayetteville.

It's free, and you can register here

The Startup Junkie team, of course, includes founder and IA adviser Jeff Amerine, a U.S. Naval Academy graduate, and his son Brett Amerine, a USAF veteran. These startup founders and military veterans doubly know their stuff.

Event details from Startup Junkie:

Veterans to Venture Leaders is a free workshop/event put on by Startup Junkie Consulting. This initial workshop/event will lead into a series of Veterans to Venture Leaders workshops/events throughout the year.

The primary aim of this initiative is to provide support, mentoring, help, and a networking forum to veterans who have transitioned out of the military to become successful venture leaders. In addition, the aim is to connect already successful veteran venture leaders to other successful venture leaders and to high potential veteran talent.

Who should attend:

  • Veterans who are interested in starting a small business or scalable startup
  • Veterans who own, lead, or operate a small business, startup, or large venture
  • Active duty and reserve military who are transitioning out of the military
  • Business owners interested in hiring veterans for leadership roles
  • Community supporters
  • Current and aspiring veteran business owners, leaders, and operators focused on innovations around retail, supply chain/logistics/transportation, and food processing

What you can expect:

  • The workshop/event will be relaxed and free form
  • You will have the opportunity to network
  • A great opportunity to be a mentor, or to receive great mentoring
  • For this first meeting we will discuss some of the challenges and opportunities for transitioning veterans, in addition to specific challenges and opportunities of the veteran venture leaders and future business leaders that are in attendance.


Capital Is the Oxygen of Entrepreneurship


(Editor's note: This is the first in a two-part discussion of innovation and entrepreneurship momentum in central Arkansas from Little Rock technology startup founder/investor Rod Ford. Coming soon, Part 2: "Building the Puzzle: Tech Park, Incubators, Accelerators, Finance.")

By Rod Ford

It’s an Uber exciting time for central Arkansas as we join the national movement of supporting entrepreneurship to replenish jobs lost through corporate consolidation and downsizing.

Across the nation, cities are realizing the value of public/private investment in creating hubs for the ideation, incubation and acceleration of new business. In central Arkansas specifically, university enrollment is declining and several key employers laid off employees in 2013: HP, Windstream, Baptist Health, LM Windpower, TV/media Stations, St. Vincent Hospital and Entergy.

After another round of layoffs in central Arkansas, Acxiom recently announced it would open another out-of-state office and hire 150 people in Austin rather than invest in its founding state.

The initial steps to create this ecosystem are well underway in central Arkansas. This infrastructure is critical if we hope to foster real entrepreneurship, attract and keep founder-level talent here.

Arkansas, in particular, needs entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial success to improve and sustain its economic health. Communities similar to Little Rock like Austin, Des Moines, Nashville and Omaha are growing cities where startup ecosystems are prospering. Leading national support organizations and private philanthropists, such as the Kauffman Foundation and Steve Case, founder of AOL, are investing in national support initiatives.

In short, entrepreneurial activity is the cornerstone of any budding city - a must have for communities like Little Rock if the "brightest and the best" are to stay in Arkansas, build companies and create jobs for the future.

Relative to national trends, though, Arkansas is new to this opportunity although there are indeed a host of worthy efforts underway. Leading the charge, with public support, is the Little Rock Tech Park. Other organizations like the Venture Center are offering pre-accelerator programs as well as mentorship resources which are both critical for early stage entrepreneurs to launch.

There are also maker and ideation spaces coming online, high school entrepreneurship programs in the works and collaborative work spaces being envisioned in new venues. In my career, I’ve had the great fortune to watch other mature ecosystems evolve across the country in a similar fashion - each started with basic building blocks, all working in the same proximity to one another, with the common goal of building a vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem inside their community.

The Key Ingredient That’s Missing

Yet the central Arkansas landscape, in my opinion, is missing one key ingredient. That ingredient is capital: the oxygen of entrepreneurship. Capital, in my view, is the “long pole in the tent” that isn’t being addressed at the velocity needed to support success. We have a lot of excitement around facilities, mentorship and new programming, but little discussion around the capital that’s necessary for the next step. For any of these new businesses to properly launch, grow and succeed, they need capital.

First, let’s back up and see why on a national scale there is so much excitement about the possibility of creating new jobs at scale. What has changed today that makes this so possible versus 10 or 20 years ago?

The New Networked Economy

In my career, I’ve watched business transition from an industrial economy to the IT economy…from the IT economy to the internet economy…from the internet economy to what I think of as today’s "networked economy."

This new networked climate is one where hyper-connectivity and universal access to social, mobile and cloud computing offers spectacular new opportunities for those brave souls that have an idea for a product or service that people find useful in their everyday lives. It levels the playing field, if you will, and makes bigger numbers of consumers more accessible to entrepreneurs trying to reach and distribute products to them.

Because of the networked economy, the period from incubating an idea to executing an idea can move at record speed. Entry costs are much lower as are risk levels. Computing is advancing faster than ever before; coding languages such as Ruby on Rails and cloud technology like Amazon’s AWS have democratized technology, allowing entrepreneurs with a vision to quickly develop an idea into a robust, scalable business.

In this context, business ideas are exploited with increasing ease, producing an emerging type of economy arising from the digitization of real-time connections between people, devices and commerce.

Even more encouraging is the notion that every budding entrepreneur doesn’t need a "boil the ocean" break-through idea to be successful. Mark Twain once wrote, "There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on turning, making new combinations indefinitely; but they are the same old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages."

To illustrate, one needs to look no further than Uber, a mobile app that connects people seeking taxicabs with a service network of providers. Or Airbnb, the lodging rental service. Made possible by the cloud computing where all devices are interconnected, these companies pioneered new business models within very traditional markets by simply connecting needy consumers to excess inventory using their mobile devices.


Congratulations, you have a great idea for a new business…you can now get some affordable startup programming…you have access to great mentors….maybe you even have a cheap space to work! You’re all set right?

Wrong. Where to now? If you aren’t one of the handful of firms accepted to the ARK Challenge (which may get you on an investor’s radar screen), how much money do you really have to finance your idea in order to buy time to see if it will work? You could try crowdfunding, but in my experience with the firms I am exposed to in Arkansas, this probably won’t produce the scale of funding needed for a reasonable incubation.

Fuel for the Fire

The seed capital - the $200-$400,000 you really need – can be the hardest money for aspiring startup entrepreneurs to obtain. It’s the very first cash from an investor bold enough to take a chance and get the brand new business rolling, often while it’s still little more than a modestly curated idea.

New data from investment-research firm CB Insights found that 2013 was a robust year for venture capital seeding with over 112 registered seed venture firms investing in seed-stage companies. Unfortunately, none of the firms invested in were Arkansas-based.

In my view, it’s foolish to ignore this data when we are talking about growing the entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Nationally, the general thinking within the 200 or so accelerators around the country, is that if the entrepreneur stays focused on gaining customers, building a killer product, and establishing a talented team that can execute on ideas, the money for launch and growth will find you.

But will it? That may indeed be true in other places around the country, but will that be true in Arkansas? Can the money really "find you" if you have a good idea and a good team?

I’ve had the fortune to raise capital for three of my startups from family offices, limited partnerships, early stage venture capitalists, and institutional private equity firms, both early stage as well as growth-stage rounds. I’ve also experienced the heartache of executing "down round" financing where initial investors are diluted.

On the flip side, I’ve had the joy of handing my capital partner a check well above their internal "hurdle rate."

Unfortunately, not one of these financing rounds or investments has ever been from an Arkansas firm. Private Equity at Work, an organization that researches the private equity industry, reports that Arkansas is distressed and not near at par with our neighboring states in the availability of capital for emerging companies. Private equity sources made 2,670 investments in Texas, 439 in Tennessee, 370 in Missouri, but only 63 in Arkansas (2013 data).

In my businesses through the years, capital raises have always taken me two times the amount of time I envisioned while they were four times more difficult. It’s time, as we make great strides towards the emergence of an entrepreneurial hub, we get busy ensuring there will be oxygen in the tank before to fund the new ideas exiting our ecosystem investment into job-creating commercial successes.

Rod Ford is a serial entrepreneur and investor involved in the startup, growth and exit of multiple technology and innovation companies. He received his Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Arkansas. Rod spends much of his time working with startup companies and supporting technology incubators and accelerators as an innovation mentor, and currently is an active board member with the Arkansas Venture Center



Saturday Morning Meeting Devotes Entire Program to On-Shelf Availability


IA adviser Jeff Amerine and his popular Swimming in a Sea of Data segment are taking a break this week, as 8th & Walton's Saturday Morning Meeting devotes its entire half-hour program to a pretty big deal in the retail realm -- on-shelf availability (OSA).

Saturday Morning Meeting brought together some industry leaders for an in-depth discussion of OSA and its impact on the retail industry.

Leading the discussion is Bill Akins, SVP of business innovation at Rockfish, and he's joined by Mike Graen, VP of collaboration at CROSSMARK; John Suchy, director of strategic category sales at Nestle; and Matt Waller, chair of the Supply Chain Department at the UA's Walton College of Business.

These guys represent suppliers, service providers and academia, and this is as good as it gets in this area.

Again, Saturday Morning Data (and the Swimming segment) is aired at 6:30 a.m. Saturdays on KNWA in northwest Arkansas, posted Mondays to 8th & Walton's YouTube channel, and, of course, shared in this space. 


The Week Ahead: Gabriella Draney on Tech Startups at Clinton School


The startup week ahead is highlighted by the latest edition of the Clinton School Speaker Series, which will look at building ecosystems through tech startups.

Let's take a look:

  • Pre-Flight at the Arkansas Venture Center resumes Monday at 4:30 p.m. from the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce. More info on this pre-accelerator course here
  • The weekly 1 Million Cups will roll from the Little Rock Chamber, this week from 8-9 a.m., which may make for a 2 Million Cups this time around....More info here
  • Gabriella Draney will present, "Building World-class Ecosystems with Technology Startups," as part of the Clinton School of Public Service Speaker Series Wednesday at noon from the school's Sturgis Hall in Little Rock's River Market District. Here's more: "With her vision of seeing Texas recognized as one of the top 3 innovation ecosystems in the world, Gabriella Draney will present the many different players and catalysts necessary to make that vision a reality. Building the world's leading B2B accelerator was the first step in the process. Tech Wildcatters began spinning out new programs in 2012, beginning with the international exchange globeStart, in partnership with American Airlines. In 2013, Health Wildcatters became the first healthcare focused accelerator in the southwest and is currently running its second class. This fall marks the beginning of the latest spinout, the codex, which provides professional technology training." It's freeMore info here.  
  • On Thursday, the Little Rock Drupal Users Group will meet from 4:30-6:30 p.m. at the Few agency in downtown Little Rock. More here.

As always, check out Arkansas Startup Digest for a full run-down on entrepreneurial events in Arkansas.  


Gabe Couch of Tagless Included in AB's 20 in Their 20s


In case you missed it, Gabe Couch of Tagless is one of the beautiful people.

And by that, we mean of course, a member of Arkansas Business' 20 in Their 20s, The New Influentials, out this week.

Like we said, the young, beautiful people...(who one day soon will systematically take over the world and relegate anybody over 30 to Carousel. We kid, we kid. We hope we kid.) 

Anyway, that's Gabe in the graphic at right, middle of the top row. Look for the beard.

Couch is one the guys behind the Few agency in Little Rock, the Made by Few conference and Designed by Few competition. He's also a founder of Tagless, the current ARK Challenge Little Rock startup (and therefore IA client firm).

IA and Arkansas Business are running a series of profiles on ARK teams in Little Rock; look for Tagless in the next few days. 

Meantime, here's the write-up on Gabe from 20 in Their 20's (and yes, it's Ga'Briel):

Ga’Briel Couch graduated from the University of Central Arkansas in 2009 with a degree in graphic design, but said he comes from a school of thought that’s founded in self-learning and self-challenging. “You learn more from core experiences than from the core curriculum that’s set out for you,” Couch said. This ideal set the course for Couch’s nonlinear career path.

During an internship with Arkansas Business Publishing Group, Couch was introduced to the corporate structure of producing creative products for the public. He worked with management to become the company’s first junior designer, but left soon after to work for Essick Air Products and later for Arkansas Blue Cross & Blue Shield.

After about three years, he began working as a designer for Acumen Brands and Saatchi & Saatchi X in northwest Arkansas before he decided corporate life wasn’t for him.

Couch is now a partner and designer at Few, a website development company composed of a group of friends. “I want to work in environments that allow me to challenge myself — better myself — as well as my friends and the people around me as we develop things we care about,” he said.

The company came about after Couch launched tech and design conferences Made by Few and Designed by Few in 2012 and 2013.

In addition to contributing to the “maker culture” of Arkansas, Couch is also launching startup Tagless Style, an online curated style service.


IA Client Field Agent Featured in City Wire


Good piece in the City Wire on Innovate Arkansas client firm Field Agent of Fayetteville.

Field Agent delivers mobile retail intelligence and has been growing like crazy. Up to roughly 40 full-time employees and a network of about 400,000 "field agents," Field Agent boats among its clients giants like Walmart, Procter & Gamble and Unilever.

Next up is international expansion. Last year, of course, Field Agent announced a $2.5 million round from Five Elms of Kansas City. 

Field Agent co-founder Rick West says the firm expects to hit between $5 and $10 million in revenue this year with year-to-year growth of about 40 percent.

Read the full story in the City Wire here

A sample:

With 400,000 field agents in the U.S. West said another growth avenue opening up in the coming months is an international expansion into Australia, Canada, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom. Beyond that he expects to move into Mexico, South America and Southeast Asia.

“Several of our largest clients (Unilever, GE, Hershey & Procter & Gamble) have global operations and we will be taking on more international work with them as well as growing our organic business,” West said.

West said Field Agent will remain focused on its core business which includes mobile shopper marketing research via crowdsourcing in real time for the retail and supplier community, and the new expansion of a “do it yourself” model for small and micro businesses.



Sparkible Hosting PokerWords Launch Party on Sept. 30


Sparkible, the Little Rock entrepreneurial training and resources nonprofit, is hosting a launch party for a new game called PokerWords.

PokerWords, from the mind of Little Rock's Jon Pendergrass, is a board game that combines word games and poker. It was designed and developed by Mike Steely and the crew at Sparkible, which now includes "VP of awesome" and local social media guru Nicholas Norfolk. 

The 20-person, multi-game party will go down at Little Rock's Few agency on Tuesday, Sept. 30. Register here to be a part of this free launch.

Steely shared other Sparkible projects that have made for a busy past six weeks:

  • Noteimals Children's music learning system Kickstarter campaign set to launch in October
  • Client in Egypt working on a new portable bluetooth based theft notification system
  • NinjaFred teenage custom creations ecommerce company launching in October (this is Connor's business)
  • Multiple SEO projects for professionals including doctors and lawyers to growth their online presence. 

Plus, there's much more to come. 

And don't forget, Sparkible sponsors three meetup groups:

  • LeanStartupCircle (ongoing)
  • Local First Little Rock meetups to begin growing local business awareness
  • Crowdfunding Little Rock, the next meetup coming in October.  

PBX to Launch Baggage Tracking System at Clinton National in LR


Innovate Arkansas client firm Passenger Baggage Xpress (PBX) has received an $18,000 grant from the Arkansas Development Finance Authority that will enable it to officially launch its baggage tracking system at Clinton National Airport in Little Rock.

The grant comes from ADFA's Risk Capital Matching Fund.

The Little Rock startup, from brothers Michael and Brandon Eason, is an ARK Challenge alum and a serial G60 participant and winner.

The Eason brothers have developed a system that enables airline travelers to track their checked luggage and eventually will use RFID and NFC to boost that tracking to real time.

Which is, in a word, awesome.

Thanks to the ADFA funding, PBX will officially launch its product at the Little Rock airport.

The Arkansas Small Business & Technology Development Center has worked with PBX, and its Rebecca Norman has more here on the imminent launch, data from which PBX will use to project operation costs at larger airports.

A sample:

PBX’s initial product consists of a permanent supplemental luggage tag and a secure, user-friendly mobile app. PBX tags are unique identifiers used by airline employees to contact passengers when their bags are lost in a fraction of the time it currently takes. The company’s tags are directly connected to over 450 airlines worldwide.

“When luggage is mishandled, lost, or misplaced, PBX members receive alerts through our mobile platform that provide them with the exact airline and employee contact information to locate their lost items. At PBX, we place the power of baggage recovery back in the hands of our customers,” Michael said.

In the future, PBX plans to insert Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) or Near Field Communication (NFC) technology into the tags “for real-time luggage tracking data for passengers,” he said.

Good luck, and keep up the great work, guys. 

Still Time to Register for LR Tech Fest


Little Rock Tech Fest 2014 runs Friday -- that's tomorrow -- from the Statehouse Convention Center in downtown Little Rock, and there's still time to register. 

It's free, but you need to register right here

Take a look at the impressive list of national speakers here, and it includes some of Arkansas' top techies. View the agenda here.

Plus, Innovate Arkansas is part of an impressive list of sponsors.

Registration starts at 7:30 a.m. with an 8:30 intro. It all wraps up at 5 with an after party at the Flying Saucer (downstairs).

If you're a techie, you'll want to be here for this. More info at the official site


Clinton School Speaker Series to Feature a Look at Tech Startups


Tech startup founder Gabriella Draney will talk building world-class ecosystems with tech startups as part of the Clinton School of Public Service Speaker Series on Oct. 1 in Little Rock.

Could Little Rock be one of those emerging ecosystems?

The free presentation will begin at 12 noon from Sturgis Hall. More info here.

“Building World-class Ecosystems with Technology Startups”

Wednesday, October 1, 2014 at 12:00 p.m. (Sturgis Hall)

* In partnership with Gravity Ventures

With her vision of seeing Texas recognized as one of the top 3 innovation ecosystems in the world, Gabriella Draney will present the many different players and catalysts necessary to make that vision a reality. Building the world's leading B2B accelerator was the first step in the process. Tech Wildcatters began spinning out new programs in 2012, beginning with the international exchange globeStart, in partnership with American Airlines. In 2013, Health Wildcatters became the first healthcare focused accelerator in the southwest and is currently running its second class. This fall marks the beginning of the latest spinout, the codex, which provides professional technology training.  

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