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Arkansas Startups Take All Shapes and Sizes, Experts Say

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Arkansas’ startup accelerators are bursting at the seams and the largesse of entrepreneurs is bringing a lot of variety through the front door. While tech startups, retailers and food product companies may dominate business page headlines, experts say there’s much more to the entrepreneurial backstory than that.

“A lot of people think, ‘Oh entrepreneurship; that’s for 20-somethings who wear blazers, T-shirts and jeans,'” said Kim Lane, chief executive officer of Conductor in Conway. “An entrepreneur can be anyone. It’s just someone who wants to take initiative and make a difference in something – in their life or in their industry.”

“You see people of all ages, all backgrounds. We see a lot of health care people who want to do their own thing, but they’ve never had a support system. We have people who are retired who want to do something. We really do everything.”

Lane said Conductor’s latest cohort, 10X Cyber launched in March, is a good example. The accelerator’s roster includes companies dealing in health care, real estate, insurance, moving and storage, manufacturing and sports performance supplements.

Achieving a collection of entrepreneurs as diverse as what Conductor works with is not altogether coincidental, Lane said.

“A lot of accelerators tend to be extremely tech-focused. We’ve gotten a lot of attention because of our work with rural entrepreneurs,” she said. “We’re positioned in a great place because we’re close to Greenbrier, we’re close to Vilonia, we’re close to Morrilton. These people are entrepreneurs as well and they need help just like anyone else.

“A family-owned plumbing shop needs marketing help too; they’re trying to figure out how to use social media just like everyone else.”

Brett Amerine, chief operating officer of Startup Junkie Consulting, listed biotech and banking as two growing categories of startups with which the Fayetteville-based accelerator is working. He said one entrepreneur in a new space tends to inspire others to follow suit.

“I think there is something to clustering,” he said. “I don’t know if this is a case in other areas, but we have a really strong bench in Arkansas of really scalable, amazing restaurants and food venues that start here. Absolutely incredible, best-in-class restaurants where they’re on a path to an IPO or a big acquisition or they’re proven and they could easily start to scale.”

Amerine said supporting the outlier company that brings a new market space through the door provides many of the same challenges to accelerators as those in more familiar market segments.

“Every business, every vertical, every industry has its own challenges but some of the fundamental human characteristics to make those businesses successful, they’re the same across businesses,” he said.

“Persistence is huge, I would say work ethic is huge. Being opportunistic is big; it’s kind of posh these days for young entrepreneurs to say, ‘Oh, I just have to say no to things. I have so much going on, I have to choose now what to say no to.’ Those people are going to miss a lot of incredible opportunities.”

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