February 2019 Magazine

Ark Tank


Arkansas Tourism, in partnership with Innovate Arkansas, is gearing up for the first ever Ark Tank startup pitch competition, which will bring together some of the brightest ideas to promote state tourism.

by Caleb Talley

For the purposes of this competition, a tourism-related business is defined as one that directly interacts with tourists, deals with businesses that cater to tourists, encourages tourism in and travel to Arkansas and/or supports tourism-related activities in Arkansas, according to a release from Innovate Arkansas.

Proposed applicant projects were required to promote tourism or be associated with a tourism or hospitality entity in Arkansas that offers an experience, location, attraction or travel planning assistance to potential visitors from both inside and outside the state.

Startup businesses related to tourism in Arkansas began the application process in early January. Those chosen for phase two of the competition were asked to complete a “lean canvas” for their business model. On Feb. 6, the remaining applicants will be selected to participate in phase 3, the pitch competition.

“We are looking for the ideas and energy that entrepreneurs bring to everything they do. To apply those ideas for continued tourism business growth in our state is a great opportunity,” says Arkansas Tourism Director Jim Dailey. “Ark Tank will be an exciting addition to our annual conference, and we can’t wait to see the ideas that will be presented.”

Innovate Arkansas managed the application process and selected competition participants with advisement from Arkansas Tourism. The Ark Tank judges were chosen by Arkansas Tourism and advised by Innovate Arkansas.

“Both tourism and entrepreneurs are driving forces for the Arkansas economy,” says David Sanders, director of Innovate Arkansas at Winrock International. “Winrock and Innovate Arkansas’s team is dedicated to helping startup founders grow their businesses in Arkansas. We are excited to partner with Arkansas Tourism to extend the startup spirit and our support to an industry that is so important to our state.”

The Innovate Arkansas team will work with the finalists to develop, refine and practice their pitches in preparation for the competition to be held on February 26, 2019, in Hot Springs, Arkansas. The competition will be held in conjunction with the 2019 Arkansas Governor’s Conference on Tourism.

The competition will also be streamed live for people from all over the state to watch. Audience members will be able to text their vote for a winner after the competition, and an audience favorite winner will be announced at the same time as the grand prize judges’ winner is announced.

The pitch competition winner will walk away with a cash prize of $5,000, a guarantee for mentorship from professionals in the field related to the winning business idea, and ongoing advisement with Innovate Arkansas and the Arkansas Tourism research and development section.

“Arkansas has a thriving startup ecosystem driving innovation in industries all across our state. I’m looking forward to seeing the ideas that come when that entrepreneurial spirit is applied to tourism, one of our state’s biggest economic influencers,” says Gov. Asa Hutchinson. “The Ark Tank competition will be a fitting highlight to my annual Conference on Tourism and will send attendees off with excitement and energy to apply to their own businesses.”

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