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Helping Startups, 6 Years On (Lance Turner Editor’s Note)

3 min read

Six years after opening in the 400 block of Main Street in Little Rock and ahead of a $9.6 million Phase 2 expansion announced last week, Brent Birch knows that a lot of people still don’t fully grasp what the Little Rock Technology Park is. But it’s pretty simple.

“The clarity of it is … it’s an office facility full of technology-focused companies that can share ideas, collaborate, learn from one another and grow here,” he said. “Not in Dallas, not in Nashville, not in St. Louis. The resources are here, and by putting them all in this building, they can connect and feel like, ‘Man, I think I can make a go of a technology company here in Little Rock.’”

Birch, the park’s executive director, has managed the park since its early days in temporary space at 107 E. Markham St. through its present home at 417 Main St., which opened in 2017.

In that time, he’s seen scores of startups come and go. Some walk in with only a wisp of an idea — others might have two or three employees and even a little revenue.

These startups — not yet ready to, say, sign a 10-year office lease somewhere — can rent space from the Tech Park, anything from a single workstation to an entire floor, and get access to its amenities: high-speed internet, meeting rooms, private offices, printers, a coffee shop — even a locker room and shower. The park also touts its proximity to downtown restaurants, bars and other attractions. 

The successes can be big. The oft-cited example these days is Apptegy Inc., an education software provider and early Tech Park tenant that announced plans in January to hire 300 people. Apptegy might seem like an overnight success to some, but Birch points out that the company has been building for a long time. (Apptegy was a Tech Park tenant during its 107 Markham days.) 

“It’s a patience game,” Birch said. “Because there are a lot of great ideas that come through here. But the ability to marry those to a revenue stream takes time. And that’s why the Tech Park project, even though we’ve had some early success stories, it’s a long-term play.”

Birch, a former pitcher for the University of Arkansas Razorbacks, slips into baseball metaphors when discussing how to think about what defines success at the Tech Park. Companies like Apptegy — hiring hundreds of people — are rare. “That’s a two-grand-slams-in-one-inning kind of deal,” he said. “But most of them aren’t going to be that way. They’re going to be in that probably 20 to 50 [range].”

Those successes — “doubles, triples and some solo homers,” Birch said — don’t grab the headlines like a new Amazon distribution center might, or a major new manufacturer coming to Arkansas. But the impact of the smaller tech firms can be potent, given tech’s higher-than-average salaries and reach into a variety of industries, everything from banking and finance to health care, agriculture and education, he said.

With Phase 2 on the horizon, Birch said he’s looking forward to providing an expanded platform to build and attract tech talent in Arkansas, with new amenities, more space and a 1,500-SF conference room capable of exposing the park and its tenants to new audiences.

But his goal for tenants remains the same: get too big for the Tech Park and move out, and keep those jobs in Arkansas.

Lance Turner is the editor of Arkansas Business.
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