Upcoming Mayor's Summit to Focus on Entrepreneurial Growth


Upcoming Mayor's Summit to Focus on Entrepreneurial Growth
Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola (Submitted photo)

Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola, in partnership with the private, nonpartisan Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation of Kansas City, Missouri, and the Venture Center in Little Rock, will hold the city’s first Mayor’s Summit on Entrepreneurship July 21-22.

Friday sessions will be held at the Acxiom building starting at 8:30 a.m., and there will be a welcome reception from 6-7:30 Thursday evening at Zin Urban Wine & Beer Bar in the River Market.

"Building a vibrant system of support and resources is critical for a city to not only encourage entrepreneurs but to help them stay and grow," Evan Absher, program officer at the Kauffman Foundation, said in a news release. "We are excited to partner with Mayor Stodola to bring this collaborative approach to entrepreneurial growth to Little Rock and Arkansas."

Acxiom, Winrock International and the Delta Regional Authority are sponsoring the gathering of mayors, business professionals and other economic and community leaders. The Summit is open to the public and there is no registration fee, but advanced registration is required and about 100 can attend due to the space available, according to Stodola.

"We’ve got a real array of people, from mayors and IT developers to entrepreneurs who have developed their own businesses," Stodola said. "The opportunity is really to try to stimulate and spur growth throughout the state, so we have people from all corners of the state, I believe, who are coming.”

Trey Bowles, founder and CEO of the Dallas Entrepreneur Center and co-founder of the Dallas Innovation Center, is the summit’s keynote speaker. There will be also be panel discussions on "Developing a Vibrant Entrepreneurial Ecosystem," "Entrepreneurship and the Role of Economic Development" and more.

Stodola said there would be small group breakout sessions and dozens of speakers. He’ll give closing remarks to end the summit at 3 p.m. Friday.

"Entrepreneurship is a key component of economic growth in Little Rock and other communities," Stodola said in the release. "Bringing together a diverse and experienced group of government and business leaders will allow for collaboration, learning opportunities and innovation in cities throughout Arkansas." 

Venture Center President and CEO Lee Watson said the two-year-old organization put together the content and programming for the summit and brought in the keynote speaker. 

Watson said the summit is important because 95 percent of net new jobs come from businesses that are less than five years old; one or two out of 10 startups become successful; and one out of 50 become major businesses like Acxiom, which started with three or four people and now employs 6,000.

He also touted that the Venture Center has created 153 jobs and grown from helping seven startups when it was founded two years ago to helping 112 now.

Watson said the summit is about why leaders need to make their cities “smart cities.”

“A smart city embraces entrepreneurship and includes it as part of its economic development strategy," Watson said. "We’re focusing on getting the message out there that entrepreneurs and entrepreneurism is a viable and required component in a city’s economic development strategy.”

He added that the number of startups per capita has been on the decline, hitting an all-time low in 2010, and the recent popularization of them has been the result of efforts to reverse that trend.

"This is definitely a 20-year game we’re all playing, but we start planting the crops now and we’ll reap a large harvest in the years to come," Watson said.

The other partner for the summit, the Kauffman Foundation, has about $2 million in assets, according to the news release. Its goal is to foster economic independence by advancing educational achievement and entrepreneurial success.

At the foundation-hosted conferences he attended, Stodola said he learned attaining success as an entrepreneur "takes creativity."

“I think Little Rock is on the cusp of greatness," Stodola said. "I say greatness; it’s on the cusp of some real great things that are happening.”

Stodola cited the Venture Center’s success, its VC FinTech accelerator that is underway now, the Innovation Hub in North Little Rock and its recently wrapped-up HubX-Life Sciences accelerator as examples of great things that are happening here.

Register for the summit here or email Phyllis Dickerson at pdickerson@littlerock.org or call 501-371-6801.