ARK Challenge Accelerator Hopes to Continue Success

by Mark Carter  on Monday, May. 6, 2013 12:00 am  

Demo Day for the first installment of the ARK Challenge business accelerator last November drew a standing-room-only crowd to the Great Hall at Crystal Bridges Museum in Bentonville. (Photo by Beth Hall)

Ninety-two applications from across the globe were submitted for the second installment of the ARK Challenge startup accelerator in Fayetteville.

Later this month, perhaps even as soon as this week, ARK officials hope to name the 10 startup finalists who will relocate to Fayetteville and compete for up to $150,000 available to two overall winners of this mentorship-driven startup boot camp.

The ARK was federally funded two years ago as part of the highly competitive Innovation Accelerator Challenge, in which 20 programs out of more than 150 were selected nationwide by the U.S. Department of Commerce to advance “regional competitiveness.” The ARK’s mission is to drive tech-based startups to develop innovation in the retail, food processing, and transportation and logistics areas for which northwest Arkansas is known. The focus is on customer acquisition/market traction, programming/product development, and investor relations.

The ARK — that’s Acceleration, Resources, Knowledge — received $2.15 million out of $37 million devoted to the Innovation Accelerator Challenge. Additional funding has come from Winrock International, Gravity Ventures, Fund for Arkansas’ Future and the Arkansas Development Finance Authority.

The program is run by Winrock’s U.S. Programs division, which includes Innovate Arkansas, in partnership with the University of Arkansas and Northwest Arkansas Community College in Bentonville. It is a member of the Global Accelerator Network and is part of the Startup America initiative.

For the ARK’s second run, each participating team of two to five members will receive a seed investment of $20,000 in exchange for a 6 percent equity stake. The 14-week program will begin in June and run through early September. Teams will receive 24/7 access to the Iceberg co-working space in Fayetteville, which will serve as their base, and access to a wealth of mentoring, networking, promotion and general support from a group of local and national advisers including some of northwest Arkansas’ most successful entrepreneurs.

The program’s goal is to launch 10 successful startups that will be encouraged to plant roots in northwest Arkansas.

Demo Day, scheduled for Sept. 5 at the Great Hall of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, will showcase the teams’ ideas and award the two top winners additional funding of up to $150,000.

The ARK’s federal grant was designed to fund two installments, but ARK officials hope the program can continue into the future. Its first boot camp last fall was deemed a huge success and received national attention in publications like TechCrunch, Fast Company and Forbes. Last fall, Gov. Mike Beebe even authorized the Arkansas Economic Development Commission to fund a third $150,000 winner.

The application pool for the second run includes 15 countries (the U.S., United Kingdom, Singapore, Russia, Romania, Italy, Israel, India, Ghana, Egypt, Croatia, Chile, Canada, Australia and Argentina) and 15 states (Arkansas, New York, Texas, Illinois, Ohio, New Jersey, Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Virginia, Massachusetts, Washington, Colorado, California and Tennessee). Thirty-five applicants are from Arkansas. Last year, Arkansas teams Btiques and StackSearch, both of Fayetteville, were two of the three winners; MineWhat from India was the other.


This year’s application pool increased to 92 from 80, and Innovate Arkansas adviser and ARK Challenge mentor Jeff Amerine said it won’t be easy to pick the 10 participants.



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