Spencer Jones’ entrepreneurial trajectory has shadowed that of his favorite team, the Arkansas Razorbacks.
The 23-year-old Conway native and University of Arkansas graduate officially launched his entrepreneurial venture at the ARK Challenge startup accelerator program, which began its fall 2014 installment in Little Rock in August.
While the Hogs toiled themselves back to respectability in the rugged Southeastern Conference, Jones developed his Little Rock startup, Jones Innovative Medical Solutions, alongside some of the state’s most promising young entrepreneurs and another startup savant from Minnesota.
His emergence as one of the state’s startup whiz kids is perhaps as unexpected as the Razorbacks’ back-to-back shutouts of ranked opponents in November that assured the team of a bowl berth at the end of the season.
Four months ago, Jones was a surgical nurse resident at CHI St. Vincent Infirmary Medical Center in Little Rock who hatched an idea to innovate the way blood is drawn from patients, especially those suffering from diabetes requiring not only daily blood draws but multiple finger pricks to check blood sugar levels.
He took his idea to Innovate Arkansas, the nonprofit organization from Winrock International and the Arkansas Economic Development Commission that nurtures tech-based startup ventures with potential to create high-paying jobs, and was advised to apply for the ARK.
The rest, as they say, is history.
“I never had any entrepreneurial leanings,” he said. “But once I came up with the idea and got plugged into Innovate Arkansas, I learned a lot and thought this is what I like doing.”
It’s a good thing he enjoys it, because his win at the ARK’s fall Demo Day on Nov. 12 pretty much cemented his rising entrepreneur status. At Demo Day, held in the Great Hall of the Clinton Presidential Center, Jones joined the five other competing teams to pitch the products they had developed over the course of the three-month startup boot camp.
Startups accepted into the program were seed funded with $20,000, but Jones took home an additional $150,000 (funded through state and private sources) as the winner.
Jones said the ARK prize money will help refine his product, the Bifurcated Venous Access Device, which provides hospitals with a “one-stop” blood draw system — one site for both IV fluid administration and blood draws.
Even before the ARK ran its course, though, Jones was a winner, partnering with David DePoyster of North Little Rock.
DePoyster owns medical venture development firm MedSource and Multiline Medical, a health care device distributor and consulting firm, and his investment in Jones Innovative ensured the startup’s continuation post-Ark regardless of Demo Day results.
“The partnership with David was huge,” Jones said. “With everything he brought to the table, I couldn’t have asked for a better partner. It definitely put me in a position to win the challenge, but I felt like I had won big by just being part of the ARK Challenge. I’m a very competitive person, so winning was very satisfying in its own right. For the company, it means a lot of valuable exposure that wouldn’t have come otherwise.”
Initially, target clients will be hospitals, and Jones said nurses will be the end users. He plans to charge about $8 per unit. Most importantly, though, patients will be the primary beneficiaries.
For Jones, that’s the biggest potential outcome. He hatched the idea for the BVAD after having to poke patients, and essentially serve as a cause of pain, multiple times a day.
There had to be a better way, he thought.
“I really feel like this is a leap forward for patient advocacy,” he said. “With this, hospitals can say, ‘Come here and you won’t be a pin cushion.’”
For Jones, the events of 2014 remain hard to fathom. He called his ARK experience a life-changing one that opened his eyes to an Arkansas entrepreneurial ecosystem he never knew existed.
Meanwhile, the BVAD remains on a summer path to market.
“Winning doesn’t change our speed to market quite as much as you’d think,” he said. “No doubt, this capital will give us some breathing room on budgeting and may accelerate a few parts, but because of the way our partnership and business model are set up, the prize money is sort of a cherry on top.”
Kind of like the Hogs making it to a bowl game this year.