Innovation Hub Director Warwick Sabin Talks Central Arkansas Entrepreneurship

Warwick Sabin represents District 33 in the Arkansas House of Representatives, and plans to run for re-election this year. He became director of the newly formed Innovation Hub last year after serving as publisher of the Oxford American. He previously has worked as associate vice president of communications at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway, associate editor of the Arkansas Times and director of development for the William J. Clinton Foundation.

A native of New York City, Sabin graduated from the University of Arkansas in 1998 and was a Marshall Scholar at the University of Oxford in England, from which he received a master’s degree in 2000.

The Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub is a nonprofit organization that plans to open the entrepreneurship-focused Argenta Innovation Center in downtown North Little Rock early this year.

Discuss the big-picture vision for the Hub.

The Innovation Hub is designed to maximize opportunities for innovation and entrepreneurship for all Arkansans by making technology, education, networking, capital and other resources easily and readily available. We will provide incubation and acceleration programs for startups, 21st century manufacturing technology for inventors, hands-on STEM education for people of all ages, networking events and workshops and more. With this exposure and access, we can create pipelines to develop, retain and attract talent that will lead to more business development. Keeping our best people here and providing support and pathways for success is the most efficient and cost-effective economic development strategy for our state.

Has central Arkansas been behind the curve in terms of its entrepreneurial ecosystem?

Central Arkansas is blessed with tremendous resources in terms of its educational institutions, private-sector businesses, nonprofit organizations, public agencies and individual entrepreneurs. What’s been missing is a way for them to connect and collaborate in a coherent way that creates a sense of community. The Innovation Hub will facilitate the growth of the entrepreneurial ecosystem by breaking down silos and providing opportunities for everyone to work together toward a common purpose.

What’s your take on plans to locate the planned Little Rock tech park downtown and the potential tech corridor that could begin in Argenta and extend across the river down Main Street?

I think this is a very exciting time for innovation in central Arkansas because we have the potential to work collaboratively to create an environment that is attractive to entrepreneurs and technology companies. The efforts in Little Rock and North Little Rock are perfectly complementary because they address separate but related needs, and if both are successful, they will provide the critical mass for identifiable, sustainable and growing business clusters that will put our region on the map as a destination for talent and capital.

Where do you see the Argenta Innovation Center and, indeed, central Arkansas entrepreneurship in general in five years?

If we take advantage of the opportunities that we have now, we will have a vibrant and dynamic regional ecosystem with an international reputation in a handful of vertical industries. 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. 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. The Innovation Hub is how we kick-start this process and begin the cycle.