Merchant View: A 'Retail Robin Hood'

by Mark Carter  on Monday, Jun. 6, 2011 12:00 am  

"Being an entrepreneur is like skydiving with a parachute kit and instructions instead of a parachute," he said. "As you fall ever closer to Earth, you better get everything assembled and in place because the alternative is not good. We learned quickly to raise money before we need it, assume technology will change tomorrow and pay ourselves half of what we think we need."

Zylowski said startups need two things, money and supportive infrastructure, and Arkansas has been doing a lot in the last few years to help provide both. He credits Gov. Mike Beebe with believing in entrepreneurship and a commitment to "organic corporate growth"; the leadership at the UA's flagship Fayetteville campus of Chancellor Dave Gearhart and entrepreneurship professor Carol Reeves; the creation of the Arkansas Risk Capital Matching Fund; and the continued growth of Innovate Arkansas.

"Innovate Arkansas acts as our toolbox, adviser, networking provider, 'Dear Abby' and sometimes psychologist," Zylowski said. "Jeff Amerine and many others have alternatively held our hand and pushed us along as we traveled this journey to date. They've provided financial support, expert insights, strategic analysis and opened many doors along the way. They are unfailingly flexible and fair, and we consider them to be an invaluable asset to our company."

Early-stage access to capital is consistently cited by entrepreneurs as key to startup success. Zylowski thinks Arkansas can do even more by expanding its Risk Capital Matching Fund and fostering further angel growth.

After all, Arkansas wins when businesses flourish, he said.

"It's much less expensive to foster new businesses than it is to woo established businesses from other states or regions," he said. "This isn't lost on our governor, but more is always better. We'd love to see a broader and deeper fund that backs companies like ours through the pre-revenue phases."

Zylowski stressed that Merchant View is greatly benefiting from the Risk Capital Matching Fund and is thankful for it, but would like to see it expanded in both scale and scope.

"Money dedicated to supporting entrepreneurship is not spent; it's invested," he said.





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