Mike Steely and Lee Watson, co-founders of Arkansas Venture Center, made the formal announcement of their business accelerator enterprise today at the Greater Little Rock Chamber of Commerce, where they will be housed for the next few months.
Gov. Mike Beebe announced that the state is offering a $500,000 matching grant in Governor’s GIF dollars to help fund AVC, as it did the Innovation Hub in North Little Rock. Beebe, Mayor Mark Stodola, former Acxiom CEO
founder Charles Morgan, Acxiom chief product and engineering officer Phil Mui and Fidelity National Information Services Senior Vice President Chris Cline focused their comments on the need to provide education, support and training to the state’s young entrepreneurial talent.
“Do you all have any idea how hard it is to do a startup? I had forgotten,” Morgan, who created the international information company in Conway, said. He said AVC’s programs would not only help kick off new businesses and provide training that established companies need but would help create a culture that would get young people interested in technology jobs.
Beebe spoke of what he called the “paradox” that Arkansas has so many large businesses — he mentioned Acxiom, FIS, Walmart, J.B. Hunt — for a small state, but “we don’t do a very good job with regard to the quantity of smaller startups.” He said that because research and startups seldom see success on a schedule that benefits election results, public policymakers have not done enough to support accelerators like AVC and science and technology education in Arkansas.
Since the company’s incorporation last September, some 750 entrepreneurs have attended AVC events, including its Huddle Hour sessions with mentors and the Kauffman Foundation’s 1 Million Cups, at which entrepreneurs present their business ideas and take questions. For members, programs include the Drink It! networking event for members, the Build It! “fireside chat” with AVC founders, Pitch It! promotion workshop and Code It! technology workshop. AVC’s free 1 Million Cups event is held every Wednesday at 9 a.m. at the chamber office at Markham and Scott streets. AVC will begin a 10-week Pre-Launch series for persons interested in starting businesses June 30; sessions will be held starting at 5:30 p.m. Mondays.
Arkansas Ventures will eventually move into space that the Little Rock Technology Park will lease at Markham and Main.