Arkansas entrepreneurs Jordan Carlisle and Max Farrell attended a Startup Weekend in Kansas City back in 2011 and left convinced that they needed to bring the event to their hometown.
On April 5, they’ll see their vision realized as Startup Weekend Little Rock takes over the Clinton School of Public Service.
Startup Weekend began in Seattle three years ago and has grown into something of an international sensation. With the Kauffman Foundation as lead sponsor, the event now stretches from Mongolia to Africa with more than 400 events in more than 100 countries.
Next month, Arkansas will be on that map.
Startup Weekend is just that: a weekend (54 hours to be precise) devoted to local entrepreneurs building operational startups.
Here’s how it works. Starting Friday, participants pitch ideas. A popular vote determines the best and teams will form around each idea. Then it’s a “54-hour frenzy of business model creation, coding, designing and market validation.” The weekend concludes with teams presenting in front of local entrepreneurial leaders with feedback and prizes ensuing.
Startup Weekend gives local entrepreneurs a chance to team up, network, float ideas and absorb constructive criticism. On average, about 36 percent of all Startup Weekend ventures remain in operation three months after the event.
Farrell said Startup Weekend had the potential to give Little Rock an infusion of energy if not actual startups. He sees Startup Weekend Little Rock as “further validation this state is well on its way to being a catalyst in the startup space” and said both the city and state have embraced the event.
“We’ve been thrilled with the level of support the whole state has provided, not just the Little Rock area,” he said. “We’ll be thrilled if we get 60 to 75 participants to commit to an entire weekend, but we hope that we can get at least 100 participants involved in the event. We have some great community leaders and entrepreneurial minds that are involved and want this to be the event that sparks the passion for a handful of Arkansans.”
Farrell said that if just one team sticks together to keep building on its idea or if any of the participants are inspired to become more active, then he, Carlisle and Little Rock startup lawyer and fellow founder Jamie Fugitt will have done their jobs.
The Little Rock event will be broken down into three segments: developer, designer and non-technical.
Early-bird registration at $50 per ticket runs through Wednesday; afterwards, it’s $75. Things will get rolling at 6 p.m. on Friday, April 5, and run through 9 p.m. on Sunday, April 7.
Judges will include Millie Ward, co-founder and president of Little Rock advertising firm Stone Ward; Jeff Amerine, Innovate Arkansas adviser and University of Arkansas entrepreneurship instructor; designer Arlton Lowry, Made by Few founder; Jeff Stinson, director of the Innovation Center at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock; and Jeannette Balleza, director of the ARK Challenge business accelerator in Fayetteville.
Also, an impressive lineup of coaches will be available, led by Arkansas native Kristian Andersen of KA+A and Gravity Ventures.
Currently, Farrell (the son of Arkansas Business Publishing Group Chairman and CEO Olivia Farrell) works with digital cash payment startup Dwolla, while Carlisle is busy with his Project Olympia, a social cloud program for coaches that he helped start at last year’s Startup Weekend in Columbia, Mo.
It was important for both to bring Startup Weekend to their hometown, which sometimes takes an entrepreneurial back seat to Washington and Benton counties.
“We wanted to do the event in Little Rock to build in our hometown, but also have a central location for the entire state to get involved,” Farrell said. “Ultimately, we want this event to thrive in Little Rock and for a group of passionate people to do the next Startup Weekend here and host the first one in northwest Arkansas.”
It’s likely that Startup Weekend will find its way to northwest Arkansas soon. Farrell called the NWA startup scene an “awesome ecosystem emerging with supportive industries and some really passionate people.” But his and Carlisle’s focus always was on central Arkansas, and they hope securing Startup Weekend for Little Rock can be a positive thing for the state.
“Arkansas has the rumblings for great things,” Farrell said. “Northwest Arkansas is much further along as far as entrepreneurial scenes go, but they have young talent and three industries — retail, logistics and food services — to build around quickly. Little Rock is really backed by the entire metro area as Conway has some really talented people building startup businesses and the startup community.”
Farrell noted the resources available for startups in central Arkansas including Innovate Arkansas and the Arkansas Small Business & Technology Development Center based at UALR.
“Eventually the entrepreneurial community will become a statewide rallying point, as Arkansans want Arkansas to be great, not just for themselves,” he said. “There aren’t many places like this in the U.S.”