By Caleb Talley | Photography by Meredith Mashburn
When Haley Allgood moved to Fayetteville in 2010 to pursue a degree in chemical engineering, she probably didn’t know the Northwest Arkansas community would become her forever home. She also couldn’t have known that, in four short years, she would be helping lead an entrepreneurial revolution, putting Fayetteville on the map as the new Startup City of the South.
“I was on my way to becoming a chemical engineer,” she says, tapping away at her laptop inside a crowded downtown Fayetteville coffee shop, having just come from a summit for young professionals where she served as a breakout speaker.
“I needed an elective to graduate with honors, and I found entrepreneurship – my parents are entrepreneurs – and I thought, ‘Okay, I’ll take that one.’ Jeff Amerine was my instructor.”
Amerine, a prominent figure in the world of entrepreneurship, was the University of Arkansas’ associate vice provost for research and economic development and director of technology ventures at the time. He’s a startup junkie, having founded the aptly named Startup Junkie Consulting. He got Allgood hooked, too.
“After graduating, I decided to get my MBA in entrepreneurship,” says Allgood. The MBA program required she pick up an internship related to her field of study; so naturally, she called Amerine.
“I reached out to Jeff to see if he knew of any cool startups he could plug me into,” she says. “And he said, ‘Why don’t you come work for me?’ I’ve been at Startup Junkie ever since.”
She jumped in with both feet. For her summer internship project, Allgood helped lock in a $1 million grant from the U.S. Small Business Administration for ScaleUp Ozarks. By the time she graduated with her MBA in 2016, the Small Business Administration had named her the Women in Small Business Champion of the Year.
But she doesn’t mention any of that over coffee. Instead, she praises the teammates she works alongside and the innovators she consults every day.
“The people who engage with our organization, our community partners, the people who are willing to sit down and mentor entrepreneurs, the entrepreneurs themselves – all of that is a fun energy,” says Allgood. “Anything I’m doing, I’m working with amazing people.”
Allgood also speaks pretty highly of what others might consider the less-than-glamorous aspects of her high-profile job. She’ll tell you she enjoys it all.
“The part of my job that everyone else doesn’t see is writing grant applications,” says Allgood. “I invoice for contracts. I do our accounting and bookkeeping. I’m HR. I’ve also been known to do some graphic design and web development for our own stuff.
“At any point in time, I can have our accounting stuff, Adobe Illustrator, someone’s financial projections, a pitch deck and a billion emails pulled up on my desktop. I had to get a second screen.”
But the bulk of Allgood’s duties at Startup Junkie are centered around her one-on-one work with entrepreneurs. She and her team strive to take good ideas and improve them, prepare them for the marketplace. “That’s a huge part of what we do,” she says.
The more challenging, the better.
“I love when people come in with interesting challenges,” Allgood says. “I love when someone comes in with something I’ve never seen before. I might not even know right away what advice to give them. But the more we talk, the more I can pattern match their ideas with entrepreneurs who may be in a completely different industry, based off something they did in a situation with a slightly similar problem…The thought process, that’s fun.”
Allgood is a thinker, as she’s proven time and again. But she’s good at building bridges, too.
“I’m always hosting, planning and attending events,” she says. Today, she’s planning the upcoming NWA Startup Crawl, the largest entrepreneurial event in the state.
“I do outreach to community partners, put together new programs,” says Allgood. “I’m building bridges between different groups of people, making sure that if an entrepreneur needs to be guided through this web, we can draw the connection between where they are and where they need to be.”
There is a lot that goes into helping solidify her community as the Startup City of the South, a title that was proudly stripped away from the likes of Austin, Charleston and Birmingham. Fayetteville consistently tops national lists of best places to launch a business. A number of startups, many of which Allgood has consulted, have come from as far as Silicon Valley to put down roots in the region.
They come in all shapes and size, from brothers making chocolate with a beloved family recipe to doctors crafting advanced surgical devices. But all the startups Allgood works with need to have one thing in common to succeed.
“You have to be scrappy,” she says. “We’ll have someone complain because they can’t find capital or they can’t start their business because they don’t have $100,000 to pay a developer to build it for them. Then we have people that come in and say, ‘I’m a business student. I learned how to code, and here’s my minimum viable product.’ It’s not perfect, and it’s not going to run the fastest or be the best, but they can get to something.”
With Allgood, you get the real deal. She’s not going to ask for anything from an entrepreneur that she wouldn’t be willing to deliver. That’s because she, too, is scrappy and determined. And she’s a salesperson. Not just for Startup Junkie, but for her community and the virtues of the culture she’s helped cultivate.
“As an entrepreneur, you’re the biggest salesperson for your business,” Allgood says. “You have to get over that, go out and sell. If you can’t find customers, you might not have a product that fits with what consumers want… Then, you have to reevaluate, figure out whether or not you’re on the right track.
“You have to take initiative. You have to sell. You have to be scrappy.”