ARK Challenge Hosts Early Demo Day for NWA Teams

ARK Challenge Hosts Early Demo Day for NWA Teams
Michael Paladino (center) and Josh Moody (right) of Overwatch show off their product during ARK Challenge Demo Day at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville. Overwatch was one of three winning teams from the 2013 ARK Challenge that presented an alumni update on Thursday. (Mark Carter)

The "lean and mean" theme adopted for the third installment of the ARK Challenge carried over to the startup accelerator program's Demo Day, held Thursday in the Great Hall at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville.

The 14-week program, federally funded for its first two years, continued through 2014 thanks to state and private investment. The program also expanded to Little Rock.

The third edition -- ARK 3 -- began in Fayetteville in August and focused on attracting more mature startups. It features just five teams, as opposed to 15 and 10 for the first two runs, and each team received $50,000 in seed money to develop their startups.

Previous installments of the program seeded teams with $20,000 and awarded cash prizes to winners at Demo Day, during which participating teams pitch their tech-based products and services to peers and potential investors. ARK 3's Demo Day was moved up to midway through the program to place teams in front of potential investors at an earlier date. The program will conclude in October.

Teams did not compete at Thursday's Demo Day, but used their presentations to appeal to potential investors.

Teams that presented on Thursday were:

  • Skosay of Fayetteville, from Justin Urso and Jason Kohrig -- A private two-way communications channel for consumers and businesses.
  • CrowdToGo of Seattle, Wash., from founders Jet Castro, Pita Siatan, Greg Hermo and Nevelyn Custodio -- A delivery service for businesses that provides on-time local deliveries using the crowd.
  • Neo of Springdale, from Justin Farmer and Travis Fischer -- A network risk assessment bot, invented by the folks behind Innovate Arkansas client firm Kernel, that provides cybersecurity solutions for small businesses.
  • HumanLink of Rogers from Venkatesh Vadlamani and Murali Kota -- Online community matching families and elders with quality, in-home caregivers.
  • HIPAA Risk Management (HRM) of Fayetteville, from Anna Drachenberg, Catherine Ganahl, Elizabeth Green and Katie Lay -- Another IA client firm that offers a cloud-based, online data security tool for health-care organizations.

Jeanette Balleza-Collins, director of the ARK Challenge in northwest Arkansas, said the lean approach to the third installment was adopted to try and provide more value to participating teams.

"We wanted to keep the teams moving and engage investors at an earlier stage," she said. "We wanted to be more of a concierge service for them this time."

HRM just landed its 100th national client, and represents the mature startups the ARK targeted for its third round. Drachenberg hopes the startup can use its ARK experience to expand its sales and marketing strategies.

"Our mentors at the ARK have helped us determine what will have the best reach and be the most profitable," she said. "They've helped provide an overall sense of how to manage scale and helped us make a lot of connections. Much more than the money, the human capital we've gained here has been invaluable. Three of four months from now, we'll have a lot of good people off which to bounce ideas." 

Meanwhile, the Little Rock "ARK 4" edition is off and running. Its Demo Day scheduled for Nov. 12 from the Clinton Center, and Little Rock teams will be competing for prize money.