The Venture Center: A Force for Entrepreneurship

The Venture Center: A Force for Entrepreneurship
With an experienced team of mentors, The Venture Center serves entrepreneurs at all levels. (Danny Johnston)

The Venture Center is a globally recognized Arkansas-based Entrepreneurial Support Organization (ESO) that helps entrepreneurs turn their startups into viable, high-growth businesses.

From the idea stage to the launch stage to competition for funding to growth stages, The Venture Center serves entrepreneurs at all levels.

Using the expertise of an experienced and knowledgeable team of mentors, intensive programming and introductions to the investor community, The Venture Center helps drive economic growth in Arkansas and globally.

Headquartered at the Little Rock Technology Park and named the Nonprofit Organization of the Year at the 33rd Arkansas Business of the Year Awards, The Venture Center focuses on education, collaboration and acceleration within the startup arena. It partners with entrepreneurs, corporations, universities, government agencies, nonprofits, venture funds, service providers, program alumni and other organizations in the community.

Despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, The Venture Center programs served people from 48 Arkansas cities in 2021, held 74 community program sessions, awarded more than $50,000 at pitch competitions, held 11 mental health workshops and more.

More than $3 billion has been raised by the center’s accelerator alumni and 90% of alumni are still in business or have been acquired, while more than 600 bankers have engaged with accelerators.

Up to Speed

The Venture Center is known for its unique, award-winning accelerator programs — the FIS Fintech accelerator and the ICBA ThinkTECH Accelerator — which speed startup companies looking to implement solutions for real-world problems, as well as the go-to-market strategies of growth-stage companies, to fuel innovation in the financial services industry.

The FIS Fintech Accelerator brings bankers, financial experts and financial services executives together with respected fintech companies to advance the financial services industry. FIS is the world’s largest provider of banking and payments technologies.

Alumni include wealth management company Alto and data and analytics company FundSeeder. Accelerator programs have 82 alumni, have raised $2 billion for startups and engaged thousands of financial services decision makers.

The ICBA (Independent Community Bankers of America) ThinkTECH accelerator is the world’s only accelerator focused on community banking. It assists community banks in keeping up with technology and provides them with the tools they need to stay competitive.

The accelerator offers mentorship by experts and access to the ICBA network of executives and their community bank members. Its alumni range from cybersecurity firm Adlumin to digital banking company ZSuite Technologies.

New to The Venture Center lineup is the VenCent Fintech Summit, designed to provide top-tier networking and solution-driven opportunities. VenCent immerses 750 attendees in live product demonstrations from up to 75 of The Venture Center’s Fintech Accelerator alumni, plus courses from fintech and finance subject matter experts, and it facilitates collaboration and innovation networking.

Support System

In 2020 alone, The Venture Center’s entrepreneur support programs featured 89 community programs, 4,250 attendees and awarded $50,000 to local entrepreneurs.

The programs include Origin, offering monthly idea development sessions; competitive pitch events; the cyberskills competition JOLT, designed to develop skills applied to real-world techniques and tools; Spark!, the small business pre-accelerator offering mentorship, group sessions, workshops and pitch refinement and contests; and the Student Entrepreneur Education Collective (SEEC), a collaboration with the State of Arkansas and the University of Arkansas-Pulaski Technical College that offers programs and mentoring to enhance opportunities for student entrepreneurs.

The Venture Center’s video resource titles include Workshops, Health (prioritizing mental health and wellness), LunchNLearn with experts, Fireside Chats with leading entrepreneurs and Lift the Rock, a guide for finding resources and inspiration.

Pitching In

Few businesses can get far without a pitch, whether it’s to an investor or lender, and The Venture Center promotes numerous opportunities to develop and refine this vital skill.

A key event in the Little Rock Regional Chamber’s Minority and Enterprise Development (MED) Week, for example, is the Next Level pitch competition. Next Level pits entrepreneurs from the minority community against each other in a Shark Tank-inspired showdown from which two winners emerge.

Pitch applicants are judged and one winner is chosen by The Venture Center, a chamber partner, while the Audience Choice winner is selected by attendees both live and remote. Winners receive a prize package designed to help their business in its development.

The Next Level competitors bring innovative ideas from established businesses before a panel of “sharks” who have a range of experience in business diversity and organizational and business development.