Don’t tell Austin, Charleston or Birmingham, but there’s a new Startup City of the South.
And it’s right here in Arkansas.
Fayetteville has spent the last few years working towards the goal of becoming the ultimate destination for the nation’s brightest innovators and entrepreneurs. And the Northwest Arkansas city is beginning to see that dream realized with the help of Startup Junkie, the University of Arkansas and a number of city, state and corporate partners.
Their efforts have culminated in one of the most attractive startup cultures anywhere in the nation. That culture will be on full display during this year’s Northwest Arkansas Startup Crawl – the largest entrepreneurial event in the state.
“The idea for Startup Crawl came from South by Southwest, which has their own,” says Haley Allgood, executive director of Startup Junkie, the local nonprofit entrepreneurial organization that’s helped turn dreams into realities for a number of area innovators. She and her team are the brains behind this second annual event.
“A lot of entrepreneurs are extremely creative, innovative thinkers and people who can execute and drive results,” says Allgood. “I think that is what’s so important about the community movement, whether you are starting a company yourself or working for a startup company. That’s a good mindset to have… You want the whole community to rally around those entrepreneurs and businesses.”
This year’s event will kick off at 4 p.m., on Friday, Sept. 14. The event is spread across 10 stops, introducing crawlers to 13 established startups and innovation hubs.
Crawlers will also have the opportunity to interact with a number of early stage startups at the Pryor Center “mega location” on the Fayetteville Town Square. There, dozens of budding entrepreneurs will be presenting their ideas to a broader audience.
“The theme of the crawl is to highlight technology and innovation in Arkansas,” says Allgood.” Companies that are startups or support startups, contributing to the ecosystem of innovation, that are located in downtown Fayetteville were invited. But we’re also bringing in startups and fast-growing companies from all over Northwest Arkansas to showcase at the Pryor Center.”
The mega location will feature a number of unique and exciting young companies that demonstrate the region’s innovative spirit and proximity to well-established industry powerhouses.
Startups like SupplyPike, a cloud-based supply chain software solutions company, have seized on existing industries ripe for innovation. Engine, an e-commerce platform for vertically integrated, digitally native brands, is bridging the gap for area retailers by helping their brands succeed. FanSpotz, the “Airbnb of parking,” is meeting a major regional need by connecting event attendees with property owners with valuable parking spaces.
These companies, which can be found inside the Pryor Center during Startup Crawl, are a part of a community movement, a movement that is putting the rest of the country on notice. In Arkansas, especially Northwest Arkansas, big things are happening. Investors, Allgood says, would be wise to take notice.
“We’re highlighting some of the best companies in our area. These are some really fantastic entrepreneurs, innovative companies,” she says. “If there are high net worth individuals out there who are interested in investing, becoming an angel investor, this is a great opportunity for them to come out and talk to people… You can see a company there in their earliest stages. One company in particular is launching their Kickstarter. It’s a huge benefit to be introduced to a company early that you might not otherwise know about.”
But for innovators in the grind, events like Startup Crawl are an incredible opportunity to recruit talented young employees.
“A huge part of the startup crawl is talent recruitment,” says Allgood. “Entrepreneurs, typically, aren’t very good at recruiting students because they can’t go to the career fairs and spend the same dollars that big companies can, especially when you’re just hiring one person and not ten. This is a great way to make those connections and get people plugged in. That’s a huge benefit of the startup crawl.”
There will be much on display at this year’s Startup Crawl – talent, ideas and a sense of community. Put it all together, and you have the rich startup culture that Allgood and her team have worked so hard to cultivate and maintain.
“It’s a really great opportunity to feel that culture,” she says. “We talk about culture a lot, and what it means to us. It’s an opportunity for someone’s employees to go mix with someone else’s employees, having fun together and making those connections – we call them creative collisions. Business cards will be exchanged. Conversations will be followed up on later on.”
And you can’t have a crawl without beer. Each stop is paired with a local brewery, showcasing yet another example of the Arkansas entrepreneurial spirit. The event will also feature musical performances from Dana Louise, Arkansauce and The Fast.
Crawlers will also have the opportunity to check out an assortment of Teslas and other electric cars, presented by IEEE, as well as robotics demonstrations by First Robotics.
General admission to this year’s Startup Crawl is free. But for crawlers interested in a souvenir beer cup and unlimited craft brews, full access tickets can be purchased for $15 at NWAStartupCrawl.com.
Before you go, get to know some of the exciting companies featured along this year’s Startup Crawl!
34 E. Center St.
Fayetteville-based Allterity is helping its clients work on their business, not in it. The young company offers back-office accounting, finance and operations services for e-commerce companies.
Allterity founder and CEO Scott Andrews came up with the idea for his company after years spent in the e-commerce industry. Prior to founding Allterity, Andrews served as head of operations and finance at Hayseed Ventures, where he worked with hundreds of e-commerce brands and helped run, invent in or acquire 13 e-commerce companies.
“Through my previous roles investing in and running e-commerce companies, I kept noticing that every company needed the same four to five roles so that they could operate and scale their business,” says Andrews. “Small businesses can’t hire a specialized person for each role, and you don’t necessarily need a full-time support system. So, we’ve combined a lot of the services into one package.”
Andrews put his idea into action with the help of friends who he soon turned into clients.
“I started doing some general consulting for friends about a year ago, which has grown into a full client load and standardizing a lot of the services we offer,” he says. “Through the first half of this year, we’ve staffed up to support our growing client base and officially moved into our offices in June.
Allterity brings an expert level of experience to their clients because the team Andrews put together has valuable, real-world experience in the problems they’re helping others overcome.
“Allterity is a team of operators that have been in the real world and have worked through a lot of the issues our clients face on a day-to-day basis,” he says. “From raising a round of venture capital to making sure expenses are coded correctly, we’ve seen the right and wrong way to get things done and have built processes around those learnings.”
The Allterity team, under Andrews’ leadership, isn’t afraid to roll up its sleeves and do what it takes to get the job done. As they’ll tell you: “That’s not our job” isn’t in the vocabulary.
Andrews is proud to make Fayetteville the Allterity home. He earned a degree in electrical engineering from the University of Kansas before moving to Fayetteville to earn his MBA from the University of Arkansas. Arkansas, he says, has been a perfect fit for his young company.
“Arkansas businesses don’t have a lot of the traditional startup support systems like venture financing or technical talent,” says Andrews. “Because of this, Arkansans are forced to build sustainable businesses from day one and drive revenue instead of investment dollars. In other words, Arkansans have to be innovative with the limited resources we have to build real businesses faster. What’s more entrepreneurial than that?
“Plus,” he adds, “where else can you have a 15-minute commute to your office and a 15-minute drive to some of the greatest fly fishing in the world?”
Andrews and his team continue to push forward while also helping to contribute to the great startup culture taking Northwest Arkansas by storm.
“Startups are how the economy of tomorrow is driven,” he says. “From innovations in technology to the way we work, without start-ups, our economy would be stuck with the status quo – and that sounds really boring.”
320 Rollston Ave.
Qbox is a support, hosting and management resource for popular open sources platforms, including Elasticsearch, a distributed data exploration and analytics tool, and Kubernetes, a cloud-native container orchestration platform.
“Those terms will mean nothing to 98 percent of readers,” jokes CEO and Co-Founder Mark Brandon. “Suffice to say, they are tools that take advantage of the intersection of big data and the cloud.”
According to Brandon, the idea for Qbox came to him by accident.
“We started out building a search tool for e-commerce companies, but noticed that customers were really just wanting us to provide the expertise around the tools that we were using on the backend, which included Elasticsearch,” he says. “We added Kubernetes tools and support later, after we re-architected our own Elasticsearch clusters to use Docker containers and Kubernetes.”
It was through hard work and the help of both the city of Fayetteville and the state of Arkansas that Qbox has grown to what it is today.
“It is true that ours, like any startup, is the result of a lot of hard work and sleepless nights by our team, the co-founders and stakeholders,” says Brandon. “But, we have also had tremendous support from the city of Fayetteville and the state of Arkansas as well, without which, we would not be here.
“Our first round of investment came from the Ark Challenge backers, way back in 2012 when we had no business being an investable organization,” he adds. “Later on, we received tremendous backing from the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, the Arkansas Development Finance Authority and the Arkansas Science & Technology Authority. It is no exaggeration to say that it took a village to bring forth our company.”
Qbox, according to Brandon, is working on the “bleeding edge” of computing technologies, creating things that have never been dreamt of before.
“It gives me tremendous pride to see our diverse team of nobodies from flyover-state USA gel together to create a meaningful enterprise,” he says. “It really is analogous to the feeling I got when my own children started to be functional on their own and develop their own personalities.”
As Qbox grew, so did the pressure for Brandon and his team to move the company out west to Silicon Valley. And for a time, they gave it the West Coast a chance. But eventually, Fayetteville won out.
“Back in 2015, we raised money from some big-name West Coast venture capitalists,” says Brandon. “There was serious pressure for us to move to San Francisco. Four of us moved there, and I commuted four days a week for five months during that period. We all moved back home to Fayetteville.
“There were some straightforward, hard-money reasons such as the aforementioned assistance from the state,” he adds. “But also, we found it was easier to attract talent when you’re one of only a few venture-backed companies in a given radius, instead of being one of hundreds within a few city blocks. Likewise, the cost structure and pace is more conducive to getting serious work done here.”
Creating a quality startup ecosystem like that of Northwest Arkansas is vital to the growth and success of technological companies like Qbox, according Brandon.
“Developing a technology eco-system is a two-decade long process, maybe longer,” he says. “It really only happens after the first round of successful companies exit and the talent from those companies go off to start their next ventures. The process becomes self-reinforcing when investors, state and municipal stakeholders, and the vendor community all band together to support each and every founder. Events like Startup Crawl, NWA Techfest, Tech Summit and Nowhere Developers are crucial to fostering this culture.”
Qbox has 20 employees, 14 of which are at their Fayetteville headquarters on Dickson Street. The company also has five employees in Europe and one in Asia.
Joining Qbox along the crawl, Skosay offers consumers a platform to discover new products, try them and share their opinions with the brands that make them. The company allows consumers to request samples from a wide variety of brands. Consumers log on, select the products they want to sample and receive those products in the mail. Then they share their opinions, giving companies the opportunity to hear directly from the men and woman who buy their products.
1 E. Center St. #270
Startup Junkie is leading Arkansas’ entrepreneurial revolution, helping turn great ideas into realities. The nonprofit, free-of-charge consulting organization works one-on-one with innovators in an effort to grow their company and overcome challenges.
Startup Junkie was the brainchild of Jeff Amerine, who developed the organization while serving as the University of Arkansas’ associate vice provost for research and economic development and director of technology ventures. This fall, Startup Junkie will celebrate its 10th anniversary.
“Startup Junkie is an organization that exists to improve lives through entrepreneurship,” says Haley Allgood, executive director of Startup Junkie. “Our mission is education and inspiration for entrepreneurs and innovators. We meet, primarily, one-on-one with companies. We have an incredible team of people who can sit with an entrepreneur who wants to start or grow their company, help them tackle challenges.”
And they don’t charge their clients a thing. An entrepreneur can meet with members of the Startup Junkie team, learn how to take their idea to the next level and get connected to a number of valuable resources. The organization is funded by third party entities such as the University of Arkansas, the Walton Family Foundation, the city of Fayetteville, state of Arkansas and federal government.
Startup Junkie is thriving in Northwest Arkansas, because Northwest Arkansas is rich, fertile ground for innovation.
“Northwest Arkansas has so many incredible assets,” says Allgood. “I wouldn’t want to move anywhere else. There’s a fantastic quality of life here. You can really engage here. You can also be very successful in starting a company here. There’s a lot of ex
pertise in so many different areas here.
“The people who engage with our organization, our community partners, the people who are willing to sit down and mentor entrepreneurs, the entrepreneurs themselves – all of that is a fun energy. Anything I’m doing, I’m working with amazing people.”
Allgood and her team are working hard to connect bright minds with their community partners through a number of educational and networking events.
“We do tons of events,” says Allgood. “We have cohort based programs. Our events are geared towards educating, networking and showcasing. What’s great about the Startup Crawl is that it’s a fun way to showcase some of what we believe makes our region such a great place to live. We also provide fantastic networking opportunities, capital and talent.”
According to Allgood, Startup Junkie provides entrepreneurs the push they need to get to the next level. They’re there to make sure every great idea gets the attention it deserves.
“We really want to help people succeed,” says Allgood. “For someone with ideas that can scale and grow, we want to be there and support them. When you’re in the grind, scale and growth isn’t something you might necessarily think about. A company might get to $10 million in revenue. But how are you going to get to $100 million? You might be satisfied with the $10 million, but we’re going to be there to push you, help you figure out how to get to the next level.
“That’s an important aspect entrepreneurs should know. Look forward. Look towards the next growth projection.”
112 W. Center St., Suite 6
Metova is leading the charge in software development, making significant inroads in web connection and digital transformation.
A “boutique + scale” company that specializes in software development and developing solutions for technology integration, Metova has been a pioneer in the development of connected home and connected car industries. According to Jonathan Sasse, Metova’s Chief Marketing Officer, they do far more than that.
The company was officially founded in 2006 in Franklin, Tenn., but has since expanded to Conway and Fayetteville. Arkansas has proven to be a viable location for Metova because of the range of talent and innovation in the state. While heartland states may be dismissed for a perceived lack of opportunity, the talent pool in Arkansas – both engineers and developers – along with numerous industries have given Metova a competitive edge.
Originally, Metova’s developers worked on Blackberry apps, which Sasse says they developed innovations that broke ground for both Blackberry and future smartphones. The innovations Metova made with the Blackberry informed future work and led to more innovations with the iPhone and other mobile platforms.
“Very early on, we were building some of the earliest applications for Blackberry,” Sasse says. “Of course, the iPhone came along, Android came along, the mobile web came along. A lot of the work we get is helping companies expanding their business to mobile platforms.”
Metova works to remain on the cutting edge of technology, working on projects ranging from connected home devices to connected cars, in addition to developing apps for iOS.
One of the company’s specialties is developing applications for the “Internet of Things,” which is the use of the Internet to connect objects that are used daily life with computing devices. The goal is to allow these objects to both transmit and receive data, making everyday life more efficient and streamlined. Whether the applications are for home appliances, like washing machines, or wearable devices, like headphones, Metova is working to integrate technology into daily life and innovate the ways in which we use technology in our lives.
However, Metova’s biggest focus now is digital transformation. Through digital transformation, Metova helps established companies that did not have to weather the technological changes of the early 2000s to survive. Now, these companies are facing greater challenges due to the increased importance of the web and web-based technologies.
By implementing innovative solutions with an established brand, Metova can help the company remain on the cutting edge. One of Metova’s clients, Yale Locks, has benefitted from digital transformation, according to Sasse. Despite Yale Locks being over 100 years old, Metova has helped the company modernize and adapt to new technology. “We helping them build solutions where we can now use our smartphones to unlock our houses or our doors. It’s a really big change for a lot of companies, and that’s our big focus today,” Sasse says.
Although Metova works with major corporations to provide solutions, the company maintains a startup mentality. The ability to work with huge companies and maintain a scrappy attitude is what makes Metova a “boutique + scale” company, according to Sasse. “We see ourselves with a startup mentality, living on the edge of innovation. We spend a lot of one-on-one time with our clients, but ultimately, we can also build very large solutions for companies,” he says.
112 W. Center St., Suite 6
After years of high-stress corporate environments, Alexandria Jayne Pulfer walked away from her dream job with Walmart International to launch her own startup.
Feeling she needed to support her well-being, and her community’s well-being, Pulfer decided to establish a yoga studio in Fayetteville. The result was Yoga Deza, which is still going strong after five years.
Yoga Deza is a yoga studio and training center that offers public classes and yoga therapy as well as training certification courses. The startup has trained and certified over 150 teachers during its five-year existence, and those teachers have gone on to teach in over ten countries.
During an average week, Yoga Deza offers various yoga classes, including solar, lunar and power classes. The studio also offers unique events, such as a couples’ massage workshop or a full moon gong session.
The studio has grown significantly since its early days.
According to Pulfer, the studio has “come a long way.” After starting out in a warehouse space, Deza has grown into a custom space in the basement of the EJ Ball Building in Fayetteville. “Designed just for us, I am still a little in awe every time I walk in,” Pulfer writes.
Pulfer is driven by her love of humanity to make Yoga Deza a success. She aims to help people destress and move into “optimal alignment.” She believes that learning how to use yoga to channel breath can fundamentally change people.
1 E. Center St.
Zenwork, Inc., one of the fastest growing companies in the country, is a digital tax compliance and reporting company that is headquartered in Fayetteville. The company provides IRS-approved solutions for an array of services, including 1099-series information returns, W-2 payroll forms, W-9 and TIN matching vendor information services, and heavy vehicle-use tax forms.
The company boasts over 100,00 active users and is developing a following among small businesses, accountants and enterprise-level customers. In 2018, Zenwork made the Inc. 5000 list of the fastest-growing companies in the nation.
Co-founders Sanjeev and Rekha Singh launched a tech consulting firm in the early 2000s but soon realized a need for a user-friendly, cloud-based tax software. This realization led to the creation of TechAtlantis, which eventually became Zenwork.
The first product Zenwork produced as Tax1099, which is a tax software for informational returns and vendor information management. Five more platforms, which have become industry-leading, have also been developed by the Zenwork team. These include eFile Assist, designed for informational return outsourcing; EZ2290, designed for truck tax forms; EXAKTO, designed for vendor verification; EZExtension, designed for tax extensions; and FBAROnline, designed for reporting foreign financial accounts.
As a data-driven startup, Zenwork is able to adapt to meet clients’ needs and use feedback to improve its products. This agility and adaptability has allowed Zenwork to be innovative and disruptive, which the company believes is the prime goal of any startup culture.
NWA Fab Lab
21 W. Mountain St., Suite 123
Tucked away below the hustle and bustle of the Fayetteville Town Square is a laboratory designed specifically for the community’s most innovative thinkers.
The NWA Fab Lab is a public makerspace that provides the space and tools for people to make just about anything they can think of. The concept was developed by MIT and was brought to region by Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce President Steve Clark.
Tools available at the Fab Lab include 3D printers, laser engravers, vinyl cutters, painting supplies, electronics, a woodshop full of equipment and the largest 3D body scanner in the state. According to Fab Lab Director Whitney Green, some of the primary focuses of the lab are education, collaboration, work force skill training, entrepreneurship, problem solving and creativity.
“Steve Clark decided he was going to open a Fab Lab for the residents of Northwest Arkansas to utilize and enjoy,” says Green. “He put his heart and mind into it and made it happen.
“Fayetteville didn’t have any type of makerspace available for public use,” she adds. “With the downtown location being so close to the University of Arkansas, it seemed like a perfect location not only for students, but for Fayetteville residents and Washington County residents. People from all over the Northwest Arkansas area use the Fab Lab, including several local schools.”
At the Fab Lab, dreams are turning into realities for innovators of all ages, contributing to the region’s startup culture on a daily basis.
“Building a durable ecosystem of entrepreneurs can create significant, positive change in a community such as Fayetteville,” says Green.
123 W. Mountain St.
Opened in the fall of 2017, the Brewer Family Entrepreneurship Hub has become an invaluable center for collaboration for new Arkansas entrepreneurs and has also served as a co-working space and training center for students and alumni. The Hub was made possible by donations from Jerry, Kay, Clete and Tammy Brewer, and was established to capitalize on the University of Arkansas’ highly successful entrepreneurship program, which has over 20 victories in national business plan competitions.
Students and alumni can take advantage of regular programming featuring experts in design, law and other relevant fields. Office hours with experts are also available to give students one-on-one time to discuss important topics related to entrepreneurship. The facility also hosts workshops and public events that students where students can learn about entrepreneurship.
Office space is available for many faculty and community members at the University of Arkansas, including the Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation faculty, as well as student-run businesses. The availability of space is designed to increase collaboration among faculty and community members and across disciplinary boundaries.
The Brewer Family Entrepreneurship Hub is an inclusive organization, as any university community member can become a member, as long as they have an interest in entrepreneurship. Active and alumni participants of the school’s entrepreneurship program also receive special privileges at the Hub.
Arkansas Research and
535 W. Research Center Blvd.
The Arkansas Research and Technology Park, the southernmost stop along the 2018 Startup Crawl, has been a fixture for business and economic development in Fayetteville since 2004.
The facility is managed by the University of Arkansas Technology Development Foundation and maintains a heavy focus on university research and technology-based economic development.
The research and tech park is home to more than thirty public/private affiliate companies, many of which are startups in the field of advanced technology. The facility offers its affiliates access to world class resources, including high-performance computing, an analytical lab, a stable isotope lab and a spectrometry facility.
The Arkansas Research and Technology Park has created an annual economic impact of roughly $55 million statewide, generating nearly $2 million in state and local taxes a year. Since its dedication more than a decade ago, the park has had an economic impact of more than a half-billion dollars.
The Center for Business and Economic Research at the Sam M. Walton College of Business found that labor income associated with the research park’s tenant companies totaled $189.5 million from 2005 to 2014, and the research park’s overall economic impact on the state from 2003 to 2014 totaled $522.9 million.
The park’s partners include the city of Fayetteville, the Northwest Arkansas Council, the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, Innovate Arkansas and the Arkansas Science and Technology Authority, among others.
Little Bird Systems
One Arkansas startup is working to change the way the livestock industry works.
Little Bird Systems has developed a wireless feed inventory control system – dubbed the FeedCast system – to monitor the levels of feed in livestock feed bins. Using the FeedCast, growers know how much feed is remaining in bins and can control the amount of feed delivered.
The FeedCast helps growers analyze data to determine the overall livestock progress. The latest data and readings from the device are only a text message away, which allows growers to see progress in real time.
Founded in 2012, Little Bird Systems develops wireless monitoring and sensing technologies and wireless control products for various applications, whether they are industrial or consumer.
Lofty Labs does not work magic, but the company does transform ideas into technology.
This Fayetteville-based software company provides an array of services, from webpage and mobile app development to software consulting. Lofty Labs also specializes in data science and is able to provide businesses with actionable insights by synthesizing large quantities of data.
In addition, Lofty Labs is the only Amazon Web Services (AWS) consultant in the state. As an AWS consultant, Lofty Labs guides businesses through Amazon’s data infrastructure to run more efficiently and effectively.
Creative isn’t just a byword for one Fayetteville company. It’s what they are all about.
Led by CEO Steve McBee, Creative is a marketing and recognition company that designs branded merchandise to create connections between their clients and customers. With over 20 years of experience, this company has developed the skills and experience to create memorable merchandise.
Whether Creative is designing swag for Slim Chicken’s or creating custom products for the Chile Pepper festival, this company is sure to leave its distinctive brand of cool on the product.
You’ll find each of these exciting startups at the same location along the Startup Crawl.
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