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)

“The process of selecting the best 10 is going to be a real challenge because we are seeing some excellent founders with strong teams, great business models and impressive technology,” he said. “I am very optimistic about the prospect of launching 10 scalable ventures from this crowd.”

Most of the 15 ventures launched from the ARK’s first run are going strong. Sara Beck, co-founder of Btiques, a social commerce platform for independent boutiques, called the ARK a game-changer for her business.

“With dedication and effort, it took us from a mere idea to a business with a future,” she said. “We can ensure the teams coming in that they will leave the program enriched with incredible knowledge and a zest for being a part of the energized and successful startup community.”

Beck said the entrepreneurs who come to Fayetteville for the ARK’s second run will be challenged and pushed to work outside their comfort zones. In return, they’ll be rewarded with “total access to the strategic tools needed to build a sustainable business from the ground up.”

“Personal and professional growth is ensured,” she said.

Sooligan is a location-based social network that enables users to find information about a new city. Founders Natasia Malaihollo and Nikka Umil were recent graduates of the University of California at Berkeley who put law school and other plans on hold last year to relocate to Arkansas for the ARK and to launch their startup. They officially launched their venture in February at the Super Bowl in New Orleans as part of the big game’s official social media experience.

“The ARK Challenge was by far the best decision we ever made for Sooligan and our team,” Malaihollo said. “We had heard a lot about accelerator programs and expected various scenarios, but were completely and pleasantly surprised by what we encountered in Fayetteville. The mentors in this program are truly genuine, inspiring, helpful and so kind. They want to see you succeed. They want your company to grow. They want to help you.”

ARK Challenge director and mentor Jeannette Balleza said the program is suited for small, tech-based startups.

“Like other Global Accelerator Network members, our format is mentorship-driven, is short term at just three months and provides seed investment and favorable terms to founders,” she said. “With those sorts of parameters, our program works best for agile, scalable startups that can not only build but also test and deploy products within a relatively brief period of time and with great capital efficiency.

“We look forward to accelerating another 10 startups this year to continue to strengthen what is quickly becoming a very vibrant Arkansas startup ecosystem.,” she said.



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