ARK Challenge Readies for Little Rock Expansion; Warwick Sabin to Lead

by Mark Carter  on Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014 9:37 am  

The first two installments of the ARK Challenge have been held in Fayetteville, culminating in Demo Day presentations at Crystal Bridges Museum. This year, the ARK will expand to Little Rock. (Photo by Beth Hall)

Warwick Sabin, executive director of the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub, will direct the ARK Challenge business accelerator when it expands to Little Rock this year. 

The ARK Challenge is one of several startup boot camps across the country funded by a $37 million federal Jobs & Innovation Accelerator Challenge grant. The ARK Challenge has completed two rounds in Fayetteville, the most recent naming three winners last fall.

Going forward, state and private funding will fund the ARK Challenge in Fayetteville and Little Rock. The Arkansas Economic Development Commission will kick in $300,000 for operating costs, the same amount it provided as prize money for previous ARK Challenge winners. Innovate Arkansas, a joint program of Winrock International and AEDC that helps startups under the state's Accelerate Arkansas initiative, plans to contribute $800,000 raised through private investors.

Sabin is contracting directly with Winrock to run the ARK Challenge in Little Rock.

Key Sectors

Administered by Innovate Arkansas, the ARK Challenge is a three-month boot camp for tech-based startups. The first two installments have focused on industries clustered in northwest Arkansas, including retail, food processing, and transportation and logistics. Organizers have said the central Arkansas version likely will focus on health care, "big data" and banking.

While no formal dates have been set, the first Little Rock accelerator will be held under the same format as the first two Fayetteville installments and is scheduled to start in the late summer or early fall.

The next Fayetteville installment, directed by Jeannette Balleza Collins, is expected to begin this spring and include five to seven tech startups that are more fully developed than the early-stage ventures featured at previous challenges.

Innovate Arkansas is working with the Little Rock Tech Park Authority Board to lease space for central Arkansas' ARK Challenge in the 100 block of Main Street in downtown Little Rock.

The Innovation Hub is the nonprofit organization that plans to open the Argenta Innovation Center in downtown North Little Rock this year. The center will include the Silver Mine co-working space, the Launch Pad maker space and the already existing Art Connection creative space.

Sabin told Arkansas Business in a recent Exec Q&A that the efforts to promote entrepreneurship on both sides of the river in central Arkansas will lead to a more vibrant region.

"Our economy will benefit from the continuous birthing of entrepreneurial startups, many of which will mature into larger companies that create more jobs in central Arkansas," he said. "All of this activity will enhance the quality of life in this area, and the end result will be the retention and attraction of talented people, which leads back to more entrepreneurship and economic growth."



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