For decades the stories of famous Arkansas entrepreneurs have been part of American business history. Sam Walton, founder of Wal-Mart, and reinventor of retail as the world knew it. Don Tyson, founder of Tyson, Inc., the largest provider of protein to the world. Jack and Witt Stephens, founders of what eventually became the largest off Wall Street brokerage firm and the company who has birthed company after company by investing in their potential.
That’s why I found myself truly excited about being a judge for Arkansas’s first Startup Weekend, held this past weekend at the Clinton School. This was a 54-hour weekend for entrepreneurs, educators, students, and dreamers to come together to work as teams to “create” concepts for start-up businesses, pitch their ideas and compete for a small cash prize, donated business services and the recognition and encouragement to move their business idea forward.
Not surprisingly, a common denominator was technology as an enabler. From there, though, the ideas were as diverse as the teams themselves. There were ideas for entertainment, for solving business problems, for facilitating social connection, and for building social good. Inspiration turned innovation.
The Startup Weekend organization veterans told us that statistically a little more than a third of the 12 Arkansas Startup Weekend ventures will still be active three months out, and that most would never become real businesses. This is the reality of entrepreneurialism. And why it is important to keep the ideas flowing.
One stat I found said that two-thirds of all new jobs in the U.S. are created by companies that are less than five years old. Another writer says it this way:
“The hope for our economy is in the entrepreneurs who start small businesses — the innovators and dreamers who believe that against all odds they can build something better — create something from nothing, and drive change in the world.”
This is the reason Arkansas must create a nurturing business environment for start up businesses and why events like Startup Weekend are so meaningful.