Calvin Goforth of Virtual Incubation on the Next Big Thing (Exec Q&A)

by Mark Carter  on Monday, Jul. 9, 2012 12:00 am  

Calvin Goforth

Background: Virtual Incubation Co. is a private technology venture development firm based at the Arkansas Research & Technology Park in Fayetteville. Goforth is its president and founder. He is a former University of Arkansas researcher.

Education: Goforth received a Bachelor of Science in aerospace engineering from the University of Texas at Austin and a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from Stanford University.

Calvin Goforth founded Virtual Incubation in 2001. In 2011, he led the creation of Atlantic Virtual Incubation Co. outside of Boston to extend VIC's developmental reach. Its Arkansas portfolio currently includes 13 companies.

Q: The startup ecosystem in Arkansas seems to have grown rapidly during the past five years. To what do you attribute that growth?

A: Many people and groups have had an impact. It's their combined effort that has made the difference. The payoff for the state is only now becoming clear. But the groundwork that has gotten us to this point has been years in the making, and numerous individuals and groups deserve credit for understanding that the economic future of the state depends on us having a strong startup ecosystem and in particular a technology company startup ecosystem.

Q: Despite that progress, the state remains mostly "off the radar" in terms of tech startups. How much further does the state need to go before it's recognized as an innovation hotbed?

A: We need to have some major monetary events, some home-run types of success stories from startup to big exit or IPO. That is what will get national attention. We have built a great base of young companies, some of which will be enormously successful. That doesn't happen overnight.  But it is coming. Companies sometimes toil for years and hardly anyone hears about them. And then seemingly overnight their hard work comes to fruition. A large number of young companies in Arkansas are poised for major success. When that happens, national recognition for everything that has transpired will quickly follow.

Q: If Arkansas is going to pop up onto the national radar, what area represents its best chance to do so?

A: I don't think there is a single area. We have developed quite a broad ecosystem of startups. When we start getting national attention, it will be because of the number of things going on. People will wonder how Arkansas developed such a strong startup ecosystem. Arkansas does not come to mind to people today as a technology state. But when people learn about what we are doing and how we are doing it, they are often quite surprised.

Q: How unusual is the VIC model of privately incubating tech startups?

A: As far as I know, VIC's technology venture development business model is unique. It has been optimized to overcome the limitations with traditional technology transfer approaches and take advantage of the huge base of research conducted by U.S. universities. We do not just help companies; we create companies and then drive activities within them to build value and increase the probability of success. 

Q: Arkansas has seen real entrepreneurial momentum this year, including the establishment of the ARK business accelerator. What's the next big thing?

A: Be on the lookout for some major new investment initiatives. These are going to be packaged in an extremely attractive way to investors who want to participate in exciting startup companies but would prefer to spread the risk of their investment across multiple young companies.



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