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Jeannette Balleza Collins on the Agility of Arkansas Startups

3 min read

Jeannette Balleza Collins is the co-founder of the DeadFred genealogy photo archive.

Collins, 36, graduated from Hendrix College in Conway with a bachelor’s degree in English. She served as director of The ARK Challenge in northwest Arkansas from 2011 until July 2015. Collins, whose parents are from the Philippines and who grew up in Little Rock, worked with Jeff Amerine’s Startup Junkie. She is a freelance strategic consultant with Scribe Marketing, which she founded in 2004, as well as the manager of the Tonic NWA Fund, an angel investment fund she co-founded.

Why are startups important?

During my time as director of The ARK Challenge and a team member at Startup Junkie Consulting, we often cited the Kauffman Foundation’s research showing that startups account for nearly 100 percent of net new job creation and 20 percent of gross job creation in the U.S. economy, injecting competition into markets and driving creative destruction in parallel to newfound innovations.

Startups are small, agile and unencumbered, so these companies and the entrepreneurs who found them, with ego set aside and customer need as their North Star, can rapidly deploy solutions that solve problems and create new value at an accelerated rate when compared to existing firms. Startups are sexy, and although they are supremely risky for both founders and investors, actualizing one’s startup vision to scale can be rewarding in myriad ways.

What are your thoughts on the future of the tech startup ecosystem in northwest Arkansas?

I think the future of the tech startup ecosystem is very bright because we are growing out of our infancy. We’ve learned to crawl and are ready to start to walk on two legs: talent and capital. I have no doubt that after we build up critical muscle mass and our balance, we’ll be able to run in a dead sprint, starting, scaling and exiting companies in place and at volume.

You were the director of The ARK Challenge in northwest Arkansas. What was its impact on the startup ecosystem?

I don’t know that we’ll be able to see the true impact of The ARK Challenge and like-minded collaborative efforts on the startup ecosystem really for another 10-15 years. I will say that The ARK Challenge served as a galvanizing force, banding together corporate flagships, business influencers and the Arkansas idea community at large to guide startups toward more traction, whether with customers, partners, media or investors.

What should be done to encourage women and minorities in this field?

According to Google’s #40Forward project, “women-led tech companies achieve 35 percent higher return on investment, and, when venture-backed, bring in 12 percent more revenue than male-owned tech companies.” Startup and small-business entrepreneurship is an ideal arena for starting egalitarian work environments from scratch.

In the startup world, where growth is the be-all, end-all metric, founders of all backgrounds and circumstances have the opportunity to choose to deliver value, and the markets decide who wins. Nowadays, it’s not so much about an outright intent to exclude women or minorities, but second-generation bias (whether against gender, race, age or socioeconomic status) creates a subtle, often nearly invisible, context that prevents leadership parity across the board.

What’s the best advice you ever received?

“Love all, and tell the truth.” David Lewis gave this advice to all of the CEO Forum II members recently as he reflected on his lessons learned and the journey to inner peace. What a simple, straightforward compass for living the good life!

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