Investors participating in the Arkansas Technology Summit Thursday at the Argenta Innovation Center in downtown North Little Rock said they’d prefer to see an inspired pitch from a potential investment target than a detailed business plan.
Startups looking for funding need to adequately communicate a vision and convince potential investors they can realize that vision, they said. Detailed business plans with 100 pages of speculation — not so much.
Many of the state’s heavy hitters in the fields of entrepreneurship, technology and university research participated in the summit, hosted by the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub and organized by the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville; the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences; the University of Arkansas at Little Rock; and Arkansas State University.
Taking place on the heels of the fourth installment of the ARK Challenge startup accelerator, the summit hosted panel discussions on startup creation, early stage funding, commercialization of university research, company growth and late stage funding.
Brian Clevinger, co-founder and managing partner of Prolog Ventures of St. Louis, Mo., and Searcy native Christopher Rand, co-founder and partner of TriStar Technology Ventures in Nashville, Tennessee, took part in an afternoon panel discussion on company growth and late stage funding.
“The biggest thing an entrepreneur can do for us is convince us that you’re smart and have this all the way through,” Clevinger said. “The most important thing to me is that first oral presentation. I’m looking for charisma. We’re looking for really good presenters. Then paperwork becomes secondary.”
Rand admitted that he didn’t remember the last time he looked at a business plan. Sell the vision, he said, but be prepared to back it up with evidence that it can work.
“Certainly you want to be convinced by what you see and to be sold by the vision, but you want to see some data too,” said Rand, whose firm invests in startups focused on health care.
Joining them on the panel, moderated by Ping Fong, business development consultant with Biomedical Management Resources, was Brad Henry, vice president of development finance with the Arkansas Development Finance Authority and manager of the state’s investment portfolio; and Steve Bethel, CEO of Innovate Arkansas client startup Angel Eye Camera Systems, an alumni firm of the UAMS BioVentures incubator.
Event organizers included Fong; Innovate Arkansas adviser and UA Technology Ventures director Jeff Amerine; Marie Chow, interim BioVentures director; Jeff Stinson, director of Fund for Arkansas’ Future and UALR TechLaunch; Ben Wofford, director of business development for BioVentures; and Brian Rogers, technology transfer director for ASU.
The morning panel discussion covered life science technology development and early stage funding. Panelists included Stinson; Jerry Adams, director of the Arkansas Research Alliance and BioVentures chair; Mike Douglas, director of the Texas Life Sciences Collaboration Center in Georgetown and former BioVentures director; and Carol Reeves, entrepreneurship guru at the UA who has helped launch many successful startups based on UA research.
Breakout sessions drew many of the state’s leading startups based on university research, including Innovate Arkansas client firms BiologicsMD, TiFiber, HD Nursing, SFC Fluidics, HRM, BioDetection Instruments, Boston Mountain Biotech, CardioWise, Human Link, RX Results and Wednesday’s ARK Challenge winner, Jones Innovative Medical Solutions.
Innovate Arkansas is the joint venture of Winrock International and the Arkansas Economic Development Commission that nurtures high-tech startups in an effort to create high-paying jobs in the state. Its services are free.
Many of the state’s leading startup ventures are Innovate Arkansas firms or started out as IA clients.
Rand, who keeps tabs on his home state and actively seeks investment opportunities here (TriStar is an investor in Angel Eye), said the state has generated momentum regarding the emergence of its startup culture and the rise of angel groups providing early stage funding.
But there’s never enough capital to go around, he said.
“Every single investor you sit down with is looking for soemthing different,” he said. “There’s been a lot of work in this state with some of the different angel groups and resources now available. A lot of positive traction. But in Tennessee, for example, funding for startup ventures is 10 times what it was five years ago and still not enough.”
Henry advised startups to take advantages of available resources, especially those that come with no cost.
“If you’re not a client of Innovate Arkansas, become an Innovate Arkansas client,” he said. “It’s the easiest way to tap into the potential resources available in the state. It’s the easiest way to get on the fast track.”