Venture Center, Tech Park Offices to Move Into Block 2 Building

Venture Center, Tech Park Offices to Move Into Block 2 Building
The former ARK Challenge space on East Markham will be home to Little Rock tech park offices and the Arkansas Venture Center beginning in January.

Offices at the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce will get a little less crowded beginning in January.

For most of the past year, the Chamber has hosted the Arkansas Venture Center, launched in May, and served as base for the Little Rock Technology Park, which is working to acquire and develop five properties along Main Street in downtown Little Rock for its planned future home.

Thanks to a unanimous vote from the Little Rock tech park board at a special meeting held Wednesday at the Chamber, the AVC and the tech park will set up offices in the former ARK Challenge space on the ground floor of the Block 2 building in the 100 block of East Markham in downtown Little Rock.

The tech park leases the 8,000-SF space and made it available to Innovate Arkansas earlier this year for the fourth installment of the ARK Challenge startup accelerator, which ran for three months in the fall.

With the latest run of the ARK completed, the space is empty, and with the chamber now bursting at the seams, both the AVC and tech park director Brent Birch needed their own space.

The Venture Center will pay $20,000 to the tech park, which will help pay utilities and the 2015 lease, and provide services to future tech park tenants.

The tech park will invest about $44,000, Birch said, to convert the space and continue the lease through 2015. Birch views the space as a bridge for the tech park, providing a temporary physical space until park offices can be moved into one of the properties along Main. 

"This is really a chance for us to kickstart the park," he told board members. "This opportunity is necessary, in my eyes, to show that the park is a legitimate effort and that we're moving forward."

Moving In

AVC President Lee Watson, who presided over Tuesday's Pre-Flight pre-accelerator program Pitch Day, said several startups are lined up and ready to lease desks within the space. AVC will use the location as a co-working space for entrepreneurs and startups engaged in AVC programs, and to operate its many programs without conflicting with Chamber activities.

Birch will run the space and have final say over who gets access to it, per instructions from the board. Birch will man a tech park office within the space, and the AVC will get two offices and four cubicles for its staff. 

Watson will man an office along with AVC director of operations Marshal Kenneday. Also staffing the space will be AVC's entrepreneur-in-residence Lou McAlister; Carrie Ford, its director of communications and development; Jordan Carlisle, director of entrepreneurship for the chamber and director of community engagement for the AVC; and Mark Doderer, AVC's Code School instructor.

Doderer will run the Code School, which will offer the state's first certification course for Full Stack Developers. Birch said the creation of the school, set to launch in 2015, is crucial to keep the state's most talented developers in state and potentially help populate the tech park.

Board chairman Mary Good said she believed the arrangement with AVC showed real promise, but suggested the AVC seek board representation from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. Both are tech park sponsors. 

The AVC board includes Chairman James Hendren, Arkansas Systems co-founder and former chairman of Accelerate Arkansas; Chris Cline of FIS; chamber CEO Jay Chesshir; Acxiom co-founder Jim Womble; Mille Ward of Stone Ward; Rod Ford of Xcelerate Capital; and Watson.