by Sydne Tursky
Startup Junkie, a Fayetteville-based company headed by University of Arkansas alums Jeff Amerine and Haley Allgood, aims to use its unique business model to help other small businesses and boost economic development and quality of life in the greater Northwest Arkansas region.
Startup Junkie provides resources for entrepreneurs who need them but don’t always have access to them. The business hosts events to showcase and support new startups, provides mentorship and consulting for entrepreneurs and helps new businesses get access to capital and talent, said Allgood, executive director of the Startup Junkie Foundation. They also work on investor education and provide a free co-working space for entrepreneurs who are just starting out.
Recent events include Idea Fame Live, a pitch contest at the University of Arkansas held on Feb. 21. Thirty-six aspiring or current entrepreneurs had 60 seconds each to pitch their idea to the audience. They pitched everything from apps to products, but the winning idea was a service that picks up cars from the airport and fixes them while the owner is on vacation, Allgood said.
“It’s kind of like Shark Tank meets American Idol,” said Amerine, founding principal at Startup Junkie Consulting.
They also hosted a startup crawl in September, an event where community members can visit eleven local startups in downtown Fayetteville while drinking beer, eating and interacting with other local businesses. It was a great opportunity, Allgood said, and people saw businesses they didn’t know existed.
Overall, the Startup Junkie team is involved in nearly 200 events and works with well over 1,000 startups in Arkansas and nationwide every year. The team consists of people from many different experiences and backgrounds, not just business majors, which allows the company to work with all kinds of startups, not just new technology.
“We’ve got a depth of mentoring experience that’s really unmatched elsewhere,” said Amerine.
Startup Junkie is split into two entities: Startup Junkie Consulting, the for-profit arm that was founded first, and Startup Junkie Foundation, a nonprofit arm that began in 2015. The nonprofit branch was founded simply so that funders who want to contribute to nonprofit entities can do so at Startup Junkie, thus expanding the companies’ funding pool. The two entities are legally separate, but Startup Junkie’s eight-person team collaborates on both.
Funding is critical for Startup Junkie because it’s where all the business’ income comes from.
“It’s a weird business model because everything we do is free to entrepreneurs,” Amerine said.
Organizations that have a vested interest in promoting economic development provide grants to Startup Junkie, including the Small Business Administration, the Economic Development Administration and the city of Fayetteville. They can see a big return on investment with measurable outcomes through funding Startup Junkie, said Amerine.
The Walton Family Foundation also provides a significant amount of funding to increase Northwest Arkansas’ business diversity, which helps Walmart attract better talent.
When the company first began, there wasn’t anything like it in the area. Amerine saw a need and filled it, he said. While working part time with Innovate Arkansas, which had just been created to bring new technology to the state, he realized that a company like Startup Junkie Consulting was necessary to expand the breadth and depth of entrepreneurial support organizations in Arkansas. The business became a legal entity in 2011.
“And then we just kept growing, one thing after another,” Amerine said. “Our success allowed us to grow.”
Allgood joined the team in 2015 and became the executive director of Startup Junkie Foundation last year. She met Amerine while she was still an undergraduate student majoring in chemical engineering. After securing her MBA with a focus in entrepreneurship, she was eager to get involved with Startup Junkie. She has been instrumental in securing large grants, Amerine said.
Amerine and Allgood both hope to see Fayetteville become the “Startup City of the South,” they said. Amerine is quick to note that it’s aspirational, and there’s still a lot of work to do, but Allgood is hopeful.
“I don’t really think we’re too far off,” she said.