Entrepreneurs need access to expertise, an ecosystem and capital, Jeff Standridge said Tuesday at the Little Rock Rotary Club's weekly meeting.
Standridge co-founded Cadron Creek Capital in Conway and serves as chief catalyst of The Conductor, a public-private partnership among the University of Central Arkansas, Startup Junkie Consulting and Community Venture Foundation.
He began by emphasizing the importance of startups. Standridge said 85 percent of net new jobs are coming from the creation of startups. He added that small businesses represent 99 percent of U.S. employers and employ half of the nation's workforce.
That's why Cadron Creek Capital and The Conductor, among others, are helping meet the needs of Arkansas entrepreneurs.
"We are sitting on a very ripe environment to build out a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem. And I don't think it's the Silicon Valley of the flyover states," Standridge said. "I don't think it's the Austin of Arkansas. I think it is our own brand of entrepreneurial culture that we're looking to build here."
Cadron Creek is helping build that brand by launching a new $20 million Cadron Capital Partners fund this week, though soliciting investors for the private offering was not the focus of Standridge's talk.
The fund will be focused on providing money to growth-oriented technology and tech-enabled ventures.
Standridge, Brett Amerine and Jeff Amerine will be managing partners. The fund aims to invest $250,000 to $1 million in each startup it helps.
A Rotarian asked Standridge the minimum amount someone would have to invest to participate in the new fund; his reply was $25,000.
The first Cadron Creek Capital fund, an angel/seed capital investment fund designed to capitalize on the growth in entrepreneurial activity and venture financing throughout Arkansas and the mid-South, was announced in March 2015 and completed investments of $50,000-$150,000 per startup in October 2016.
Standridge said investors benefited from returns as high as four times their investments and from the chance to share their expertise with entrepreneurs.
"If we can drive a strong return for our investors but also give them the opportunity to be involved in their investments, that continues to elevate the investment acumen," Standridge said.
The Conductor, of course, meets all three of the entrepreneurs' needs. Standridge said it secures third-party funding via contracts with government, institutions, foundations and large corporations to provide mentoring, counseling, training, assistance and access to capital for free — no strings attached.
He also said most of what The Conductor does is the "short game," helping current and aspiring entrepreneurs become successful.
The "long game" is developing talent in the state by showing kids, teachers and parents that entrepreneurship offers viable career paths, Standridge said. So The Conductor also hosts a variety of events and activities for kids of all ages.