(Editor’s note: We asked Keith Hoelzeman of Little Rock startup Treatsie to write about his experiences at ThinkBigArkansas, which officially launched Startup Arkansas, part of the Startup America Partnership. The fact that Keith can deliver boxes of really good, high-end candy to your door had nothing to do with our decision to ask him over someone else. But we digress…Held at Hendrix College in Conway, the event brought together entrepreneurs from all over the state and some impressive national speakers to discuss the Arkansas startup community and how to grow it. Take it away, Keith.)
I have to admit that I was late to sign up for Startup Arkansas’ ThinkBigArkansas event. I had my own projects going and wasn’t sure if I should commit the time to it or not, but then I looked at the speakers — Arkansas’ own John James; founding CTO of Priceline.com, Steve Case, and startup guru extraordinaire Brad Feld.
As I arrived Friday morning, I saw a lot of familiar faces, some I had expected to see and some that I was surprised to see. I learned about projects that friends and acquaintances are working on as well as the challenges that they are facing. (On a side note, I’ve pretty much decided that in my next life I’m going to be a programmer — a good programmer. Everyone was looking for good programmers/hackers.)
All of the speakers delivered as promised. I learned some new ways to look at my projects as well as Arkansas’ startup community as a whole. As a state, we have people working on a wide range of projects and many more people with ideas they are working to put in motion. We also have a wealth of expertise in categories such as retail, logistics and agriculture. As Steve Case pointed out, we should try to take advantage of resources like these, rather than try to be another Silicon Valley.
Throughout the day, I had the opportunity to talk about a startup I co-founded, Treatsie, as well as learn of new and exciting startups that others are working on. Some are already generating an impressive amount of revenue and are diligently pursuing growth. It was with this group of individuals that I was keenly interested in speaking. I loved learning how they were able to go from concept to reality and discussing how their experiences relate to Treatsie and what we’re trying to do.
To be clear, Arkansas certainly faces challenges as we work together to further develop and enhance the startup ecosystem. Several of these challenges were brought up and addressed during the group breakout session. As a group, it was decided to address the startup networking and support infrastructure, to develop a platform for us to tell our story and to discuss ideas to increase experiential learning throughout the state.
All in all, I would say ThinkBigArkansas was a resounding success, for me as an entrepreneur and for the state as a whole. Much of the state had vocal representation, and those who have had success in the startup realm were willing to share ideas and give honest feedback. If you have an idea or are working on a current startup, events like this are great for networking and getting feedback.
I left the event excited not only about Treatsie and the things that we’re working on, but for the entire startup scene in Arkansas. There are people doing some great things all over the state, and you can check out some of the businesses on Startup Arkansas’ website.
The focus now needs to be on continuing the momentum.