Brent Birch has served as executive director of the Little Rock Technology Park since July 2014. Prior to that, he was chief information officer for Arkansas Business Publishing Group for 14 years and director of ABPG’s FLEX360 division for 10 years. Birch currently serves as editor of ABPG’s Greenhead, an award-winning duck-hunting magazine. He earned his bachelor’s degree in finance from the University of Arkansas.
Brent Birch oversaw the opening of Phase I of the $100 million, six-phase tech park in March 2017. Phase I cost $5.8 million to build.
What challenges do the Tech Park startups face? How do you help them with those?
A majority of our startup tenants run into two major hurdles: funding their company through the early days and learning on the fly how to run a business. The Little Rock Tech Park works closely with the Venture Center to formally address those challenges.
Informally, I have been able to share experiences, good and bad, with some of my own entrepreneurial efforts across various industries.
What is the goal of the Tech Park and how are you reaching it?
Our chief goal is to stimulate innovation and collaboration within the central Arkansas technology scene. We have done that in Phase I by creating an environment that triggers what Little Rock Regional Chamber President Jay Chesshir labels creative collisions. The ability for these entrepreneurs of all experience levels to converse and learn from one another is paramount to what we are doing with the space.
How are plans for the Phase II development coming along?
The plans for Phase II were completed in early 2019. The Little Rock Technology Park board wanted to go through the process of designing and costing the project so when we shift into fundraising mode, we can talk real numbers versus ballpark. WER Architects and CDI Contractors have done a great job designing what will be a remarkable presence on Main Street.
You’ve seen a lot of companies come and go. What is your favorite success story?
The favorite success story thus far is definitely Apptegy. Founder Jeston George started in our pre-Tech Park space down on Markham by himself and quickly outgrew that space. He now has more than 100 employees and recently moved to a bigger space in Riverdale. I will say we are on the verge of a couple of other companies nearing that kind of meteoric rise if a few more things align. Frankly, we — Little Rock’s tech scene — need some fresh success stories to perpetuate the momentum.
What are the metrics, the numbers, for determining whether the Tech Park is successful?
These first two years, we’ve mainly been focused on filling the space. For roughly a year, we’ve hovered around a 90% and above occupancy rate with the ability to fill vacated space fairly quickly. As the Little Rock Tech Park begins its third year, we are nearing the point where some of our longer-term tenants will burst through and hit a level we can’t accommodate any longer. That next level equals more higher-paying jobs, and all that comes with growth. That is the ultimate success.