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Following the Founders

In upcoming months, Arkansas Money & Politics will catch up with the founders and entrepreneurs featured in the “Fortuitous Foundings” story from our May/June 2014 print issue. We’ll see where they are now and what they’ve achieved in the years since they first appeared in our magazine. 

Back in 2014, when she was featured in the Fortuitous Foundings story in Arkansas Money & Politics, Fran Free of Fayetteville was the owner of Oh Baby Foods.

Free founded Oh Baby in 2009 with $50,000 of her own money and developed and sold organic baby food purees with all-U.S.-sourced ingredients. The company had grown 1,300 percent since September 2013 alone.

Fran Free

Free sold the company to Blackhive, a Fayetteville-based corporation, in May 2015 and served as a consultant there for a year.

These days she consults with two or three clients at a time through Saltana Foods, advising them on “everything from ideation to actually getting your product on the shelves in natural grocery chains.” As part of a home renovation, she and her husband are adding a commercial kitchen where her clients as well as others can test their products.

“It will be certified through the state and the FDA so they can do small batches of things,” Free said. The kitchen is in its first phase of renovations and Free said it should be complete by summer 2018.

Free, still drawn to matters of kids’ health and wellbeing, started Bendy Birds Yoga in Fayetteville a couple of months ago, as well.

“As my kids grow, I see their needs changing and they’re more involved in active lifestyle, fitness and so I really love the idea of having proper alignment with fitness to prevent injury in the future and of having mindfulness, being able for them to have tools that they can calm themselves,” Free, who is certified through Radiant Child Yoga, said.

Free teaches private yoga lessons and she leads yoga classes a couple of times a week, but her focus, she insists, is on family life and “just catching up.” She gardens, volunteers at her kids’ schools and next week she plans to go skydiving for the first time.

“I’m just focusing on me and the things I didn’t get to do for those nine years that I had a business,” she said.

Jeff Amerine, who was also featured in the Fortuitous Foundings story, was associate provost for research and economic development and director of technology ventures at the University of Arkansas in 2014. He is still an adjunct professor, teaching entrepreneurship at the university’s Sam M. Walton College of Business, but he stepped down from his full-time job there to focus on his own venture, Startup Junkie Consulting, which he founded in 2011.

Jeff Amerine

“We now have 15 people, and we’re looking at a 16th and we’ve got footprint not just here in Northwest Arkansas with all that we do, but in Conway as a part of a long-term contract with the University of Central Arkansas for the Conductor program,” Amerine said. “We’re running more than 200 events a year between the two locations so there’s literally multiple things every week it seems like somewhere in the state. And we’re doing more than a thousand individual entrepreneurial engagements with startup founders, creatives and others on an annual basis, so it’s really kicking right now.”

Amerine’s team has held G60 and Idea Fame Live competitions for a few years now, giving entrepreneurs a chance to present ideas in competitions for monetary prizes.

“We’re actually in beta version of launching an online platform that will be available globally that allows people to upload 60-second videos and then build an audience of voters behind their videos and that will ultimately be a $10,000 prize that grows by $3 for every $10 entry fee that comes in,” Amerine said. “It’s the only thing that we have ever done that will have a fee attached to it, but the whole idea is to use some of the funds to make the prize bigger and to drive people into this whole thought process of being innovative and coming up with great ideas. The other $7 will help fund all the activities we do throughout the state and elsewhere and make sure that they can remain completely free.”

The online competition, at www.ideafame.com, will be open through mid-January, and Amerine hopes his team can take it live globally in February or March.

“When we tell people what we do and how much we do – and particularly if they’re from large institutions or corporations – they can’t believe 15 people can get done what we get done on a yearly basis. The way we do that is by having a pretty fantastic team of people who are good at a lot of things.”

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