Virtual Incubation Co. Warms Up for Expansion, Lands Former Tyson Exec Greg Lee

by Mark Carter  on Monday, Nov. 1, 2010 12:00 am  

Greg Lee, left, and Calvin Goforth of Virtual Incubation Co. hope to see northwest Arkansas become a high-tech hotbed.

The addition of former Tyson Foods International chief Greg Lee to the board at Fayetteville's Virtual Incubation Co. illustrates the firm's plans to expand its portfolio of companies.  

Virtual Incubation is a technology-venture development firm - an incubator for high-tech Arkansas startups - located in the Arkansas Research & Technology Park. VIC pairs its clients with investors and essentially serves as senior management until they are ready to hire their own full-time team.

While it has numerous ties to the University of Arkansas - founder and President Calvin Goforth is a former UA mechanical engineering professor - VIC is a privately held company. Goforth believes Lee's expertise can help VIC grow its portfolio of companies from 12 to 20.

"We're thrilled to have Greg join the board," said VIC founder and President Calvin Goforth. "He'll help us accelerate our vision of taking this to the next level."

Lee is the former president and chief administrative officer of Tyson's international division and spent 27 years there. He served on the boards of Tyson subsidiaries including Tyson de Mexico, Cobb Vantress and Specialty Brands, on various trade association boards and chaired the National Chicken Council and the International Foodservice Manufacturer Association board. But his time with the Springdale chicken giant was R&R compared to his "retirement." 

Since stepping down at Tyson (where he still serves as a consultant) in 2007, Lee has not lacked for things to do. He is active with the Northwest Arkansas Business Council, chairs the Technology Development Foundation of the University of Arkansas, serves on the UA's Board of Advisors, the Dean's Advisory Board for the UA's Walton College of Business and the UA's 2010 Commission.

He was named Northwest Arkansas Outstanding Philanthropist of the Year in 2008 and has received numerous other civic accolades. He is a member of the boards at Washington Regional Medical System and Signature Bank of Arkansas. His tenure on the Research & Technology Park board made him aware of VIC.

"Through my participation on the research park board, I had knowledge of VIC and its efforts," Lee said. "As my business career wound down, it seemed like a natural. The model they've developed is a great model. I thought that I'd love to be a part of this."

That model entails using private investments and federal grants, mostly in the form of Small Business Innovation Research grants, to nurture its companies to the brink of commercialization. Since its founding in 2003, VIC has brought in more than $25 million in grants for its client companies. It has benefited as well from the state's R&D tax credits, passed by the state Legislature in 2003, that enable businesses to receive a tax credit of 33 percent of what they spent in a given year on R&D.

"The tax credits are a very important element in making this work," Goforth said. "The income the grants don't cover has been a really important element to how we make this work."

Lee was drawn as well to that model and especially to the potential represented in VIC's companies, which range from very early stage to almost fully developed. VIC helps bridge that gap by bringing in federal grants, hooking up clients with investors, providing managerial direction and market research, and sometimes by just plain offering advice.




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