Walton Family Grant Brings EforAll to Northwest Arkansas

Walton Family Grant Brings EforAll to Northwest Arkansas
Rodrigo Salas, executive director of Entrepreneurship for All Northwest Arkansas (Photo provided)

Entrepreneurship for All Northwest Arkansas kicked off its first yearlong accelerator programs last month, one for Spanish-speaking and another for English-speaking entrepreneurs.

“The hope is that, by the end of the program, they are either ready to launch the product or business, or they have already launched their business and it’s already generating revenue,” Executive Director Rodrigo Salas told Arkansas Business. “At the end of the day, what we’re trying to do is help people have a better life, improve their economic situation, improve their social situation” for themselves and future generations, he said.

Only about half of small businesses survive their first five years, according to the Small Business Administration. Salas said his nonprofit is trying to help those in northwest Arkansas beat the odds.

An office of national organization EforAll of Lowell, Massachusetts, EforAll NWA opened in July with a $350,000, one-year grant from the Walton Family Foundation that allows it to offer its accelerator for free, as well as Spanish and English pitch contests in which entrepreneurs compete for cash prizes ranging from $500-$1,000.

There are numerous accelerators in Arkansas, but EforAll NWA’s is unique not only because it’s offered in Spanish but also because of its length, focus on local entrepreneurs and lack of focus on a particular industry.

Accelerators usually last two or three months, and those in Arkansas attract mostly out-of-state entrepreneurs, with the exception of the 10x Growth Accelerator hosted by The Conductor in Conway. That one is exclusive to in-state businesses with annual revenue of between $100,000 and $10 million.

Most accelerators across Arkansas have an industry focus as well, whereas EforAll NWA’s is — as the name implies — for all types of businesses, though participants must be headquartered in the region. EforAll hopes to open a central Arkansas office later, Salas said.

Right now, 17 entrepreneurs are enrolled in its English and Spanish accelerator programs, he said. Another set of programs is set to begin on July 12, and May 12 is the application deadline.

Following a rigorous two-month process, accelerator entrepreneurs are assigned mentors from companies including Walmart Inc. of Bentonville, Tyson Foods Inc. of Springdale, J.B. Hunt Transport Services Inc. of Lowell and the University of Arkansas.

The first three months of the EforAll NWA accelerator are the most intense, with entrepreneurs, mentors and subject-matter experts meeting for 2.5 hours twice a week. Entrepreneurs are taught how to decide on a business model, what customers to target, financial and legal know-how and more.

During the remaining nine months, they learn how to sell and market their products or services and how to promote their businesses.

The programs have been virtual because of COVID-19, but could eventually be in-person, Salas said.

Reducing Barriers

“The reason why we do it in Spanish is because of the large Hispanic population here [in northwest Arkansas]. It is growing fast,” Salas said. “They are more entrepreneurial than the average American, at least as far as the numbers go on a nationwide perspective. Hispanics are starting new businesses at a higher rate than anybody else, which is awesome, but they need guidance because obviously everybody needs guidance, right?”

The region has a large Marshallese population as well, he said, and the older generation doesn’t speak English well. So EforAll NWA is planning to hire a company to translate the summer accelerators for that population. And it knows there is a demand for this because 20-25 people have attended information sessions held for that community.

Language is one of the biggest barriers for Hispanic and Marshallese entrepreneurs, Salas said. “So what we’re trying to do is reduce those barriers and make sure that, from the very beginning, they can do the things right,’’ he said. “So, whenever the time comes for them to ask for a loan, or to look for investors, all their ducks are in a row and they are ready to do it instead of having to rework everything and do everything later on.”

Another barrier for immigrants is not “understanding the [U.S.] system and how it works and how they need to do things. … It’s very intimidating because there are a lot of different things and permits and things that they need to do,” Salas said.

He said his organization realizes it can’t be all things to all people. So EforAll NWA connects entrepreneurs with other local organizations that can help them. “We’re trying to help them build those connections so they can be more successful by having a greater network in the community,” Salas said.

(Correction: A previous version of this article stated the wrong time frame for the Walton Family Foundation's $350,000 grant to be spent. It is a one-year grant.)