by Mark Carter
Posted 6/17/2013 01:53 pm
Updated 10 months ago
Innovate Arkansas client Movista was born in the MBA program at the University of Arkansas Walton Business College, but when it came time to put down permanent roots, co-founders April Seggebruch and Stan Zylowski chose a house just off the square in downtown Bentonville.
Movista (formerly known as Merchant View) offers mobile data collection services and its original focus was retail, helping retailers and suppliers save money on inefficient practices through data collection and delivery. That made proximity to Wal-Mart's Bentonville corporate headquarters a plus.
Bentonville, though, is becoming its own draw outside of the Wal-Mart influence. The Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art drew more than 650,000 visitors -- many of them new to Arkansas -- in its first year, and the recent opening of the swank, new 21C Hotel has already attracted some of Hollywood's A-listers including Tom Cruise.
Indeed, Bentonville is "in" — just ask the Washington Post — and the forward momentum appears to be growing. The Bentonville Convention & Visitors Bureau reports that Bentonville is up to more than 2,100 hotel rooms and 138 restaurants.
Its population of more than 35,000 has grown 56 percent since 2000, much of it attributed to relocations tied to Wal-Mart. Newcomers have been pleasantly surprised with what they find in Arkansas' northwest corner.
Its own farmers' market, street vendors, high-end restaurants and shops...We asked the Movista crew to explain just how the Bentonville vibe got so, well, vibrant.
First of all, describe the vibe in Bentonville right now. Seems like a new business is popping up every week, and folks are moving in from all over the country. Bentonville has been described as a big city wearing a small-town mask.
Stan: Bentonville is a city on fire. Literally, everyday it seems that a new business pops up. The best part is that so many of them are local and well conceived. I recently spent time discussing the architecture of 21C with Harrison Ford while Drew Barrymore dined a few feet away. This is not your daddy’s Bentonville.
Movista is one of eight IA firms in Benton County. How has Bentonville distinguished itself as a startup launching pad?
April: To have startups, you need human and financial capital and a ready consumer. Bentonville has all three. The best companies in America often assign their best employees here to serve the best retailer in the world. That influx of talent and the well-paying jobs involved fuel the mix. We find that IT talent combined with deep business knowledge creates an explosion of output. Take a look at Movista, Explainify, [IA client] Red Clay and Collective Bias. Their early success was a certainly related to supplier and retailer support. You also can’t ignore the work being done in Fayetteville, at the University of Arkansas and in Little Rock. That ecosystem certainly fuels growth here as well.
Obviously, startups connected to retail are attracted to Bentonville. Is Bentonville getting to a point where non-retail startups will be enticed to put down roots?
Stan: In most cases, you have to have access to private equity to take a leap and the key to non-retail startups getting funded will be investor confidence. The successes of retail-related ventures now should embolden investors and therefore allow them to stretch their comfort zones outside retail. One could argue that the Bentonville-based startups are already as much tech as they are retail. The Movista solution set is just as useful to oil field inspectors as retailers and virtually any firm or organization could use Explainify’s service.
What's the growth potential for tech-based startups in Bentonville?
April: The startups here are all capable of being national or international firms. In the Internet age, there is no fence that limits growth to the retail sector or any specific region. When you are a tech firm you better be ready to serve Canada, Uganda and Tupelo. The more mobile we all become, the smaller the world is, and mobility is not slowing down.
Obviously, the influence of Wal-Mart and the addition of Crystal Bridges are huge. How has the city itself encouraged startup growth?
Stan: Most people don’t realize that the growth and infrastructure development in Bentonville started about eight years ago. The mayor [Bob McCaslin] and city council deserve a great deal of credit. Roads, parks, events, low-crime and great schools make practically everyone happy, but come through a lot of hard work. Energetic and enigmatic people are attracted to vibrant places, so the growth is self-supportive. Visit the Bentonville square on a Friday night and stop in Tusk and Trotter for a cold beverage – you will instantly understand why people are coming here in droves.
Finally, give us the latest on Movista.
April: Movista [also a client firm of the Arkansas Science & Technology Authority] is growing at a compounded rate of about 15 percent per month. Our smartphone driven work tools are changing the way people execute in the field and improving productivity. We have several deals pending and expect to be working verticals outside of retail early next year. We have found interest in restaurants, retailers, service firms and auditing teams. It has only taken us three years to experience a little overnight success.