With a population of nearly 63,000, Conway has nowhere near the network density of the larger, well-established startup communities like Austin, Silicon Valley and New York, causing debate within the startup community about whether Conway has enough resources to support a localized startup ecosystem.
"That doesn’t mean that Conway and Faulkner County don’t have a vibrant tech community," said David Hinson, EVP and CIO of Hendrix College. "It just means that a freshly minted startup has to look harder — and further afield — for trusted mentors, funding, and support structures, than a company being created in more densely populated tech enclaves."
Companies have less of an opportunity for funding when cities focus on creating a hyper local startup community, Hinson said.
"We’re not growing less numbers of technically inclined people, but you have to look regionally to find enough people and capital to fund projects," he said. "I think we have competitive and sharp people now. You just increase your odds if you cast your net a bit wider."
Don Bradley, executive director of the University of Central Arkansas’ Small Business Advancement National Center, said out of the 32 years he has taught classes on small business, he has never had a student who had a complete idea that couldn’t get funded in Conway.
Bradley’s son, Don B. Bradley IV, is president and loan officer for First Service bank in Conway, and Bradley said Don is always looking for good businesses to finance.
"The money is here in Conway, you don’t have to go to Little Rock, but you have to have a portfolio. You have to have the idea. It can’t just be a dream," he said.
Bradley has also found funding for student projects through the Small Business Administration and Service Corp of Retired Executives.
Dan Fisher, director of UCA’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship program, said technology has made it easier to connect with the stakeholders entrepreneurs need to fund projects.
"Our world is flattening," Fisher said. "The barriers are going away. It’s not so much where the money comes from, it’s that it’s a lot easier to go out and find money, so i’m very agnostic about where the money comes from and so on. You learn how to package your business, and you can go find people to fund it."
Michael Hargis, interim dean of the college of business and director of EPIC, Entrepreneurship, Public scholarship, Innovation and community Engagement, residential college, said Conway has a unique business environment that very few places in the country have.
Conway has demonstrated across the board that there are a multiple of ways to make money and be successful in this town, with everything from manufacturing and Ward Bus to tech companies like Acxiom, he said.
"Well educated, and well paid people are able to invest in businesses either as customers or owners, and they’re able to contribute ideas to make those businesses more successful," Hargis said.
Although the Conway community is traditionally entrepreneurial, it is vitally important to create additional network density in these supporting networks, Hinson said.
There are several movements and organizations within the state and the region intent upon doing just that - Startup Arkansas, The Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub, The Fund for Arkansas Future - these are but a few organizations intent on helping entrepreneurs make connections, find and develop talents and get funding, he said.
(Staff writer Michelle Corbet can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 505-1215. To comment on this and other stories in the Log Cabin, log on to www.thecabin.net. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)