ARK Challenge: Acorn Hours Solving 'Real Problem'

ARK Challenge: Acorn Hours Solving 'Real Problem'
Acorn Hours CEO and co-founder David Allan

(Editor's note: This is the second in a series of profiles about the startups competing in the fourth installment of the ARK Challenge accelerator, underway in downtown Little Rock. 'ARK 4' will culminate in its Demo Day, scheduled for Nov. 12 at the Clinton Center, where startups pitch their final products for a chance to win $150,000 in prize money. The series began with Little Rock's My Color of Beauty. This week's profile subject is Acorn Hours of Little Rock.)

Acorn Hours CEO David Allan knew he was onto something significant when he was able to sign five clients, with two more pending, through cold calls and emails.

Acorn tracks and verifies student service hours for schools and nonprofits, and now boasts clients from New York to Texas.

"That made us feel like we're solving a real problem, especially since we had no track record," Allan said.

Allan co-founded what would become Acorn Hours at Startup Weekend Little Rock last year with a team that included developer Scott Shellabarer, still with Acorn, and Noble Impact co-founder Chad Williamson.

He's determined to help solve what he believes has been a legitimate problem -- verifying community service hours for students. Acorn's mission is based on the following three tenets: Better metrics mean better service; storytelling can change the world; and teachers are too important to be doing paperwork.

Acorn wants to "intertwine" accountability and service when it comes to tracking service hours, help young people tell their stories and be "catalysts for change," and free up teachers from sometimes tedious paperwork.

In launching Acorn, Allan has run the gamut of entrepreneurial experiences in Arkansas. He is taking advantage of all Arkansas now has to offer tech-based startup ventures.

A Houston, Texas, native and recent Hendrix College graduate, Allan went through the business plan competition at his alma mater, the Donald W. Reynolds Governor's Cup business-plan competition for state colleges and universities, Startup Weekend Little Rock and now the ARK Challenge.

Plus, he's spoken at BarCamp Conway and various other events and forums devoted to entrepreneurship in the state. An Innovate Arkansas client firm, Acorn has received assistance from the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub and the Arkansas Venture Center.

The Acorn app, already generating revenue through the Web-based version, should be available in the Apple store in about a month, Allan said. Right now, the focus is on private high schools. The current client portfolio includes schools in New York, Illinois and Virginia with one in Allan's hometown of Houston.

Allan, 23, is a former City Year Chicago volunteer who intended to work for nonprofits after graduation from Hendrix as a philosophy major. Exposure to the business-plan competition at Hendrix and then to last year's Think Big Arkansas event and Startup Weekend Little Rock helped alter his course.

"All those events convinced me that starting my own venture was a reasonable step," he said.

Allan intends to use the rest of his time in the ARK, which runs through mid-November, trying to develop Acorn's growth strategies and continue taking advantage of the mentor-based resources afforded ARK teams. 

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