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.

For Arkansas to emerge as something more than an occasional blip on the national innovation radar, startup leaders agree the state has to maintain a unified front.

Northwest Arkansas has been the primary source of growth for the state’s startup ecosystem over the last decade, but leaders within the Arkansas startup community realize it will take entrepreneurs from Bella Vista to Helena to push the state permanently onto the national scene.

The biggest pieces to the Arkansas startup puzzle, of course, are located in the Fayetteville and Little Rock metros, but a growing component to the central Arkansas startup ecosystem -- one that many believe will continue to grow -- can be found in Conway.

Sometimes a forgotten component to the state's startup landscape, Conway is home to a growing tech scene and a few of the state's top tech companies, including Inuvo, Innovate Arkansas client firms PrivacyStar and Pathagility and budding startups like Eyenalyze and Dotbuzz.

Plus, it's home to the Arkansas Research Alliance, a public/private partnership focused on advancing economic development through university research. Global tech giants HP and Acxiom, the latter founded in Conway and now based in Little Rock, have large operations in town.

David Hinson, the CIO and executive vice president at Hendrix College and a strong supporter of the tech scene in Conway, believes the city has become more than simply "drive past" country between Fayetteville and Little Rock in terms of the state's startup ecosystem.

With three colleges, Conway’s demographics trend young and techie, and with a 2012 population exceeding 62,000 residents, it’s poised to overtake North Little Rock as the central Arkansas metro's second-largest city.

Those demographics include several strong tech communities such as Conway Local Wiki, BarCamp Conway, Wordpress Conway and Conway Geek Breakfast that Hinson said provide "touch points and networking opportunities among our burgeoning tech workforce."

In addition, Hendrix last year hosted ThinkBigArkansas, the official launch of Startup Arkansas, and annually is home to TEDx and Raspberry Pi events. The college has its own maker space that includes a 3-D printer, and the University of Central Arkansas now offers an innovation and entrepreneurship major through its college of business.

Startup Arkansas is an entrepreneurial resource for the entire Arkansas startup community organized by Lee Watson of Conway digital media firm Clarovista and the Arkansas Venture Center.

Indeed, Conway offers all the necessary ingredients for a tech-based startup ecosystem to thrive.

"I think the most obvious advantage is having three colleges and universities to supply talent and expertise," Hinson said. He cited the strong communications infrastructure provided by Conway Corp, the city-owned utility that provides Internet, cable, telephone, electric and water; the "long-range thinking" from city government to attract and retain employers, and a supportive local chamber of commerce.



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