Jeff Standridge is chief catalyst of The Conductor, a public-private partnership among the University of Central Arkansas, Startup Junkie Consulting and Community Venture Foundation that aims to encourage innovation, entrepreneurship and economic development. He retired from Acxiom Corp. in 2016 after nearly 19 years at the company, where he was involved in dozens of mergers and acquisitions in other countries.
Standridge also co-founded Cadron Creek Capital, founded JSI Partners Ltd. and has served as a paramedic and respiratory therapist aboard Angel One at Arkansas Children's Hospital. He earned doctoral and master's degrees in education from the University of Arkansas-Little Rock.
Can entrepreneurship really be taught?
While it's true that some people are more comfortable than others with the uncertainty and additional risks associated with entrepreneurship, the specific disciplines of innovation and entrepreneurship can absolutely be taught, demonstrated, mentored and otherwise fostered. In my experience, the best entrepreneurs are constantly educating themselves and engaging mentors to help them improve the odds of ongoing success.
What does it mean to be a technology company today?
In my mind, there are true technology companies where the business model is focused on providing a specific technology in return for money. There are also tech-enabled companies that provide a non-technology product or service but the delivery of that product or service is made possible by the use of technology. Tech is a critical part of more businesses today than ever before. As a result, most entrepreneurs will be far better off than not having developed some foundation of technology acumen.
How is the investment community here?
Founders will tell you there isn't enough money in Arkansas. Investors will tell you that the money is here, but we need to continue building deal flow in order to better deploy the capital that is available. In the past 10 years, capital availability has improved dramatically. That said, it can be difficult for an Arkansas-based company with revenue traction to find a lead investor for raising a pre-Series A round of, say, $500,000 to $1.5 million.
Why should established companies encourage the startup ecosystem to flourish?
A vibrant startup/innovation ecosystem is a great place for an established company to source talent. It can also be a cost-effective alternative to funding specific R&D initiatives solely within the company. In my experience, established companies have a lot to learn from startups about how to move fast, do customer development, discover product market fit and constantly innovate.
Describe a business trend or trend in technology you've seen over the past five years.
Retail and e-commerce are being disrupted at an incredible pace, and e-commerce marketplaces are being commoditized. This is driving interesting trends in vertical integration, branded e-commerce and a flurry of acquisition activity by major brands. More innovation will be forthcoming in last mile delivery and omnichannel retail in the coming years. All of these trends will be driven by better and better tools for actionable data and artificial intelligence. n