NWA Location the Perfect Testing Grounds for Fayetteville Startup

Brett Schaefer's Fayetteville startup has benefited from its location in northwest Arkansas.

VisuaLogistic Technologies is working with the Arkansas Highway & Transportation Department to test his roadside sensors that are designed to provide interstate drivers with a traffic warning system.

Schaefer envisions a system of small sensors deployed along Arkansas freeways at sub-mile intervals that will communicate traffic conditions to drivers, and the system is being tested along the increasingly congested Interstate 540 that runs through the Fayetteville metro.

The startup and its traffic warning system were profiled this week in Arkansas Business.

Schaefer, a medical sales representative in the region, came up with the idea in 2011 after being rear-ended by a tractor-trailer rig whose driver was unaware of stalled traffic on Interstate 540 in northwest Arkansas.

The region's continued growing population -- which has made expansion of 540 to six lanes necessary -- has helped provide Schaefer's startup with the perfect testing grounds. 

"With numerous Fortune 500 companies opeining up shop right here in northwest Arkansas, I-540 has become more congested, especially during peak hours in the mornings and evenings when commuters are traveling to and from work," Schaefer said. "This is the reasoning for the 540 expansion that’s currently taking place."

Plus, the region's emerging startup ecosystem has provided VisuaLogistic, a client firm of Innovate Arkansas, with plenty of growth opportunities.

"The startup scene in northwest Arkansas is still fresh, but is one of the most valuable places to be with access to multiple Fortune 500 companies," Schaefer said. "Being a client of Innovate Arkansas has given our company multiple benefits and growth, but the most important being that it has allowed our company to really spread its wings through exposure with some of the smartest and most successful tech personnel around."

Another benefit to being located in northwest Arkansas was the firm's proximity to the ARK Challenge startup accelerator in Fayetteville. VisuaLogistic Technologies was one of 10 competing teams in the latest edition, held last fall. The federally funded program has drawn national attention and attracted startups from across the country and even the world. 

Each installment named three winners with each winning team receiving an investment of $150,000. This spring, the ARK will continue in Fayetteville with state and private funding and expand into central Arkansas later in the year. 

The three months Schaefer and his team spent at the startup boot camp helped the company get its footing.

"The ARK Challenge was an extremely humbling experience to say the least," Schaefer said. "VisuaLogistic Technologies was able to benefit above and beyond through outstanding mentorship with some of the smartest entrepreneurs in the industry. This intense program provided our company extremely valuable feedback on raising money and building a lasting brand."

Schaefer said the ARK helped his team fill in the gaps.

"As any entrepreneur knows well, it is extremely tough to get any company up and running, and there are many things you may not think about at the beginning," he said. "The ARK was a fantastic place that kept our young executives, including myself, on our toes, organized, and learning a lot each and every day for three months."