Inaugural Class of Arkansas Fellows Revealed This Week

The inaugural class of Arkansas Fellows will be revealed Wednesday at a Governor’s Mansion reception.

The new Arkansas Fellowship program pairs graduating college seniors from state schools with Arkansas-based host companies for two-year internships that will pay an annual salary of $40,000.

The program is modeled after the prestigious Orr Fellowship in Indiana and funded by Winrock International, the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Northwest Arkansas Council.

Ten Fellows were selected from a pool of more than 80 applicants representing 12 Arkansas colleges and universities. In addition to the inaugural class, the 10 host companies will be revealed Wednesday as well.

Arkansas Fellows will be provided:

  • Access to the host company’s senior leadership for mentoring and support.
  • Opportunities to build deep relationships with peers and business and community leaders.
  • Invitations to lectures with renowned speakers.
  • Civic engagement opportunities.
  • Accelerated paths to professional development.
  • An annual salary of $40,000 paid by the mentor company. (It may also include additional benefits and bonuses provided at the discretion of the mentor company.)

Leaders in the state’s startup community believe the fellowship program can help entice the state’s top graduating seniors to stay in Arkansas and possibly launch successful tech-based startup ventures.

“There has been growing recognition among leaders in business, government and education that we need to do more as a state to retain and develop our native talent in order to be competitive with other regions,” said Warwick Sabin, Arkansas Fellowship director.

Sabin is firmly connected these days to the state’s business scene. Former publisher of the Oxford American magazine, Sabin is the director of the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub, which is opening the Argenta Innovation Center in downtown North Little Rock later this summer.

This fall, he will lead the Little Rock version of the 2014 ARK Challenge tech startup accelerator. Plus, he represents midtown Little Rock in the Arkansas House of Representatives

Sabin believes the Arkansas Fellowship will become an important part of the Arkansas entrepreneurial ecosystem, taking advantage of the many entrepreneurial resources and programs now available in the state.

“It will also contribute to those programs,” he said. “In addition to their employment at the host companies, the Arkansas Fellows will participate in educational, civic and other enrichment activities that we will organize for them in order to increase their ties to the community and encourage them to remain in the state after the fellowship period ends.”

Sabin believes the impact will be long term. Aside from providing graduating seniors with relatively high-paying gigs for their first couple of years out of school, it will sew important seeds.

“We believe that the Arkansas Fellowship will profoundly impact economic development in the state by keeping our most talented young people here and giving them the opportunities, connections and resources they need to be successful,” he said. “By contributing in innovative ways to our existing companies and then possibly starting their own companies, the Fellows will ultimately create a cohort that supports each other and those who come after them. That has been the experience of the Orr Fellowship in Indiana, and there is no reason to expect any less from the program that we have established in Arkansas.”

Arkansas entrepreneur Kristian Andersen hatched the idea for an Orr-like fellowship in Arkansas. A serial entrepreneur and angel investor, Andersen has launched several tech startups and owns KA+A, an Indianapolis-based creative agency. He helped launch Gravity Ventures, the member-based, seed capital fund that now has multiple funds in Arkansas and Indiana.

Andersen believes in the potential of Arkansas to become a tech startup hub. Pathagility, the Conway software startup and Innovate Arkansas client firm he co-founded, is poised to become a big player in the pharmacogenetics industry. Through the Fellowship, startups like Pathagility stand to benefit from the potential influx of technical talent.

“I had witnessed the impact of the Orr Fellowship program in Indiana and thought a similar concept would be a great fit for Arkansas,” he said.

Each fellowship lasts for two years with a new class selected each year, so classes will always overlap. The first class will commence later this month. The fellowship board of directors interviewed each applicant and narrowed the field to 25 finalists who were then interviewed by representatives of the Arkansas companies that expressed interest in hiring an Arkansas Fellow.

On this “Finalist Day,” companies and finalists ranked each other in order of preference, and matches were made based on those mutual attractions, Sabin said.

Seven state business leaders make up the program’s board membership: Andersen, Little Rock startup lawyer Jamie Fugitt of PPGMR Law; Jeff Amerine, Technology Ventures director at the University of Arkansas and Innovate Arkansas adviser; Heather Nelson of SEAL Corp. of North Little Rock; Mike Steely of the Arkansas Venture Center in Little Rock; Burt Hicks of Simmons First National Corp.; and Little Rock CPA Ryan Holder.

Fellowship selection criteria includes a minimum GPA of 3.0, graduation from an Arkansas college or university (native Arkansans graduating from out-of-state schools will be considered), and demonstration of leadership potential with a focus on entrepreneurship.

More information on the program is available at ArkansasFellowship.org