Spencer Jones Big Winner at ARK Challenge in Little Rock


Spencer Jones Big Winner at ARK Challenge in Little Rock
Demo Day for the fourth installment of the ARK Challenge drew a standing-room-only crowd to the Clinton Center as Gov. Mike Beebe provided opening remarks. 

Spencer Jones, a surgical nurse resident at CHI St. Vincent Infirmary Medical Center in Little Rock, won an investment round of $150,000 for his innovative blood-draw device Wednesday at the ARK Challenge Demo Day in Little Rock.

Held at the Great Hall of the Clinton Presidential Center, Demo Day was the culmination of the fall 2014 installment of the three-month ARK Challenge accelerator. On Wednesday, participating teams presented their startup ventures and revealed progress made over the course of the startup "boot camp." 

Jones launched his Little Rock startup, Jones Innovative Medical Solutions, to develop his patent-pending device — the Bifurcated Venous Access Device (BVAD) — targeted initially for diabetics who receive multiple blood draws and finger pricks during hospital stays. The idea came to him while treating patients at St. Vincent.

"Once this device is inserted, every blood draw needed during a patient's stay is taken care of," he said.

The system can be used for both IV fluid administration and blood draws. Jones said BVAD is more efficient for hospitals and pain-free for patients who otherwise who get stuck and poked multiple times daily. Jones plans to sell BVAD for $8 per unit.

Jones said he'll spend the next six to eight months securing FDA approval and beginning manufacturing. He expects to hit the market in June. His ARK Challenge winnings will help him further develop and refine the device.

Jones Innovative was one of seven teams that received $20,000 in seed funding to participate in this fourth installment of the ARK Challenge program.

The ARK is administered by Innovate Arkansas, an venture of Winrock International and the Arkansas Econnomic Development Commission. In 2012, the program became one of just 20 nationwide to help launch the U.S. Commerce Department's $37 million Jobs & Innovation Accelerator Challenge.

That led to two federally funded installments in Fayetteville in 2012 and 2013. Earlier this year, state and private investment extended the ARK program through this year and expanded it to Little Rock.

The summer installment in Fayetteville completed its run in October; a Demo Day for five teams took place in September.

The purpose of the ARK is to build tech-based Arkansas companies and move others here that provide high-paying jobs. Gov. Mike Beebe, who provided Wednesday's opening remarks, said the ARK represents an opportunity to keep our "best and brightest" at home.

"This program has shown the kind of potential and experienced the kind of success to bring talent to Arkansas and keep it here," Beebe said.

Previous ARK installments attracted startups from as far away as India. Seven teams were selected for the first Little Rock cohort, one from Minnesota and the rest from Arkansas.

The Little Rock installment was directed by Warwick Sabin, director of the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub and the Arkansas Fellowship program.

Several of the Little Rock teams existed as mere ideas when the ARK began its fall run in August and are now bringing in revenue. The teams are:

  • Acorn Hours, Little Rock — an online tool that tracks students' service hours and helps implement and support experiential learning programs in schools. Founder and CEO David Allan, a multiple Startup Weekend winner, said Acorn had zero revenue when it was accepted into the ARK, and now has client high schools in five states representing more than 2,000 students and has generated $14,000 in sales. Plus, Allan announced on Wednesday that Acorn had just signed the University of Arkansas at Little Rock as its first college-level client.
  • Fair Share Data, Bentonville — an "anti-loyalty" program that compiles consumers' credit card transactions and lets businesses push targeted deals to compete for customers. Founder and CEO Matt Bakke said the problems with current data brokers are that they provide no transaction data, generate leads only and raise ethical questions. Fair Share solves each of those problems. Since beginning development of the startup on day one of the ARK, Fair Share now has 100 financial accounts linked.
  • Jones Innovative Medical Solutions, Little Rock — Jones partnered with ARK mentor and fellow startup founder David DePoyster, who owns medical venture development firm MedSource and Multiline Medical, a health-care device distributor and consulting firm. That partnership and the ARK winnings should help him push his product to market by next summer or sooner. 
  • My Color of Beauty, North Little Rock — a content and commerce company that provides an online platform for women of color to to find quick beauty solutions for their specific needs. Founder Eyona Mitchell said her startup offers personalized results not available elsewhere, and believes she's hit on a niche that could help her startup break even in its first year with an average transaction of $30 per visit.
  • Politapoll, Rogers — A nonpartisan, multi-issue platform for citizens and advocates to collaborate and effectively engage with their elected representatives regarding legislation. Politapoll didn't pitch at Demo Day and actually had to leave the program in the days leading up to it. It's currently on hold as co-founder and CEO Justyn Hornor, who had been working on a similar idea involving real estate, signed a deal with Real Agent Guard, a personal security system for real estate agents for which he now serves as CIO.
  • Tagless, Little Rock — a men's online styling service providing name-brand clothing and professionally curated style, sustainably, at an affordable price. Co-founder David Hudson a well-to-do friend once shared a secret: He shopped for clothes only at Goodwill. Tagless has worked a deal with Goodwill to provide second-hand but mane brand clothes at greatly reduced prices. Users fill out a survey identifying their clothing needs and are matched with a stylist. Tagless does the rest.
  • LinkedCause, Minneapolis, Minnesota — An opt-in, buy-one, give-one cause marketing concept and the parent company behind Eatiply, which has provided 225,000 local meal donations through a partnership with the Arkansas Rice Depot. Through Eatiply, diners at participating restaurants can purchase designated meals for which the restaurant will donate a meal to the Rice Depot. Founder David Woodbury said cause marketing has been shown to improve customer loyalty by as much as 80 percent.

Innovate Arkansas director Tom Dalton said the first Little Rock cohort was impressive.

"This was one of the strongest groups we've had come out of all our accelerators," he said.

Bakke said the ARK Challenge experience for the entire Fair Share Data team was "incredible from start to finish."

"We're not just building companies, we're building them in Arkansas, and that means a lot," he said.

Jones knew he was up against some tough competition but remained confident. After all, he's knows from personal experience how much of an impact his product could have.

"I was pretty shocked when Warwick announced I had won," he said. "I was confident that I had a good chance, but the other companies were all so great and unique that it was really anyone's game. I'm really just so excited about what this means for the product, as well as traction for the company moving forward and developing future products.

"I cannot say enough about the ARK, Winrock, Innovate Arkansas, and all the organizations and mentors that played a part in helping my dreams come true. They deserve a lot of credit, and I feel blessed to be plugged into the passionate startup ecosystem they've built in Arkansas."