Conway Remains a Big Piece of Arkansas Startup Puzzle

by Mark Carter  on Sunday, Mar. 16, 2014 11:54 pm  

ARK Challenge NWA director Jeannette Balleza-Collins leads a session at last year's BarCamp Conway.

"If you have the energy, and the courage, to undertake starting a new tech venture in Conway, you’re going to find plenty of support, encouragement and resources," Hinson said.

Brad Lacy, president of the Conway Area Chamber of Commerce, believes the city is attractive to startups because it has a history of launching and supporting them.

"Companies like Acxiom, American Management Corporation and Nabholz Construction all started with a handful of employees and have grown to become major employers," he said. "I believe that history proves that the community helps nurture a startup. I think the mixture of education, proximity to a larger city like Little Rock, a competitive local utility that pioneered high-speed Internet access in our state and region, and a legitimate business community that is diverse helps facilitate the development of startups."

Like Hinson, Lacy believes the presence of three colleges in Conway is a strong ingredient in the development of startups, particularly tech-based ventures.

"We are also a community of people who aren’t from here, which makes it easier for new people to assimilate," Lacy said. "The biggest advantage for tech-based startups is that we have an interesting mix of skill sets in the market because Acxiom started here. We also have the promise of producing hundreds of degreed young people each year to feed their respective businesses."

Mark McCuin, CEO of laboratory software startup Pathagility, simply likes living in Conway. While Pathagility maintains a Little Rock office presence, the firm officially is based in Conway with McCuin, and he doesn’t see a reason to move.

"You can build a tech startup anywhere today, but I just love living and working in Conway," he said. "It's a little hard to describe. I think it has to do with the combination of decades of exciting community growth but with the intimacy of a smaller city."

Lacy knows that in today’s mobile environment, entrepreneurs can be choosy about where they want to be based. Conway has taken measures to attract and retain them.

"They want cool places to live, interesting places to gather, and access to a diverse group of people," he said. "We have an economic development philosophy that is strongly grounded in community development and quality of place. Regardless of the business or industry, our experience is that quality of life always matters. You can’t 'incent' someone to go somewhere they don’t want to go."

Lacy said initiatives such as downtown redevelopment, city design guidelines and a focus on parks and trails have helped make Conway more attractive to companies and the potential entrepreneurs being produced by Hendrix, UCA and Central Baptist College.

"We want to build a nationally competitive community," Lacy said. "Ultimately, we are convinced that a nationally competitive community wins the economic development battle."

Conway native Kristian Andersen of KA+A and Gravity Ventures believes the city has as much entrepreneurial potential as any in the state, and he should know. Andersen, who splits his time between Conway and Indianapolis and is a co-founder of Pathagility, is involved in ventures across the country as a founder and an investor.



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