The Story of Sooligan: From San Fran to Super Bowl Via NWA

by Mark Carter  on Monday, Jan. 7, 2013 12:00 am  

Sooligan co-founders Nikka Umil (left) and Natasia Malaihollo at the ARK Challenge Demo Day.

“We actually had no expectations of Arkansas before coming in,” Umil said. “We are full-fledged California girls, so before the Ark Challenge, we never really thought of Arkansas much. We thought it would be more rural than it turned out to be, but were pleasantly surprised by the booming northwest Arkansas community and its history of housing the greatest in retail and transportation.

“Fayetteville kind of reminds us of Berkeley in that it’s socially active with a vibrant university atmosphere. We love the people, community and culture.”

In terms of developing into a regional entrepreneurial hub, the Sooligan girls think northwest Arkansas legitimately is on its way.

“Northwest Arkansas is on the right track,” Malaihollo said. “There is no doubt that it will be a hub for entrepreneurship and tech in the next few years. There’s a lot of entrepreneurship activity here.”

Northwest Arkansas has an “endless supply” of selfless, progressive people who embrace innovation, are willing to take risks and put the interests of community first, she said.

“For a region to grow, it needs leaders and people who want to see growth for the simple reason that they care about their community, not for personal gain.”

Umil said Fayetteville enabled Sooligan to grow in a way it probably couldn’t have in the San Francisco Bay area, where the concept was hatched.

“We were able to focus more in a small city like Fayetteville,” she said. “Silicon Valley is already saturated with so many startups that receive minimal notice despite their amazing products and services. As we were researching different accelerators, the Ark Challenge proved to be an unconventional yet smart choice for us.”

The Ark Challenge would go all out for its first round of startups, the Sooligan girls reasoned, and they were right.

“We figured they would expend all their resources to make their first group awesome, which is exactly what they did,” Malaihollo said. “It helps that this area has the most billionaires per capita in the nation, too.”

Also, the girls figured their product could get off the ground quicker here.

“A small, tight-knit community like Fayetteville allows us to test our product at a small scale and gain community support and recognition for our brand, something we wouldn’t get in a place like Silicon Valley since people encounter so much startup noise daily,” Umil said. Sooligan currently is raising $50,000 of a larger $500,000 seed stage round and is about halfway there, Malaihollo said.



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