Arthur Orduña became executive director of The Venture Center, a nonprofit entrepreneurial support organization, in January. He oversees the center’s accelerators and experiential programs, working to create investment capital opportunities for entrepreneurs and early-stage companies. He was previously chief innovation officer at the Circumference Group of Little Rock and continues to lead early-stage venture and corporate innovation there on a part-time basis.
Orduña earned a bachelor of arts degree from Cornell University in 1984. He also attended the MFA Graduate Program for Dramatic Writing at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.
What’s your top goal for The Venture Center?
Our overarching goal at The Venture Center is to make Arkansas and the central region of the U.S. a global leader in entrepreneurship and economic growth.
What did you like about this opportunity that made you join the center?
I began my tech career more than 25 years ago in a software startup located in the heartland, not in Silicon Valley or on the East Coast. The Venture Center affords me a chance to engage directly with founders and startups, to help mark new beginnings and create new stories. Our mission is my passion, and I feel very fortunate to be given this opportunity, once again in the heart of America.
What does the next phase of growth look like for The Venture Center?
We want to broaden and deepen our engagement to support entrepreneurs across Little Rock, central Arkansas and the state. We want to extend our expertise in curating and running new technology accelerators for corporate partners from fintech to other sectors and industries. We definitely want to create new partnerships within the state and across the region that bring more investment capital for new ventures to Arkansas.
How would you assess the work of The Venture Center in fintech?
Our work in fintech is world-class and award-winning. Period. We’ve curated amazing annual cohorts of early- to growth-stage companies for almost a decade, so it’s hard to point out just a few wins. But here’s a compelling number: Our cohort companies last year raised more than $555.5 million in investment capital — and that was in a challenging capital market. As for the future, it’s essentially limitless. I dare you to come up with an industry or company that isn’t reliant upon or touched by an aspect of finance and fintech.
The center held its first VenCent Fintech Summit last year. What’s next for that event? How big could it be?
We’re excited about the second year of VenCent, and the team is already deeply engaged in creating the program. We don’t want to give anything away too early but suffice to say that we’re getting commitments from fantastic speakers and panelists, and we’re adding some unique elements that will be a game-changer for the industry. As for how big we can grow, well, our aspirations are definitely ambitious. We want VenCent to be the preeminent fintech gathering for which bankers and founders eagerly prioritize year after year.
Are there any missing pieces in the Arkansas startup ecosystem? How do we fill those gaps?
A critical need for entrepreneurs and startups is access to more investment capital. That’s one of the objectives of The Venture Center’s partnership with the Circumference Group, which is to create a platform to attract, sustain and grow investment dollars to the state and the region. This requires building relationships across multiple public and private entities, which is a critical focus moving forward.
Fintech has proven to be fertile ground in Arkansas. What other areas of emphasis might the center explore?
Along with a continuing exploration of fintech and its related ecosystem, a sensible evolution for us is to focus on innovations for industries already important to Arkansas, such as precision tech for agriculture and livestock, and electrification and autonomous tech for mobility and transportation. We’re also looking to explore areas important to leading central Arkansas entities like [the University of Arkansas at Little Rock] and [the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences], as well as next-generation tech platforms for manufacturing and logistics.
What do you think The Venture Center does especially well? How does that help entrepreneurs?
We help founders build from concept through the lean canvas to testable concept to launching a minimum viable product. We help existing ventures improve, refine, strengthen and succeed. We broker mentors and mentees. We curate world-class accelerators to solve important, impactful problems. We love our communities and we celebrate success. Then we take a deep breath — and do it all again.
What key lessons have you learned about leadership?
Listen and learn, constantly. Think slow, move fast. Do the hard things first. You won’t always succeed, but try to do your best and trust what you know is right. Prioritize brief and regular communications with your team, together and one-on-ones, preferably verbal instead of written. Err towards transparency. Never, ever promise what you know you can’t deliver. Failure happens and it hurts, but it will be your best teacher if analyzed honestly. Your primary responsibility as a leader is to ensure your colleagues can execute to the absolute best of their abilities. You’ll know you’re succeeding if they truly want to. And finally, how you make others feel says a lot about who you are.