U of A to Gather State Leaders in Northwest Arkansas for SEED Arkansas Summit

U of A to Gather State Leaders in Northwest Arkansas for SEED Arkansas Summit
Cari Humphry

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Arkansas educators, business leaders and civic leadership will converge on downtown Fayetteville in October for the SEED Arkansas Summit, a gathering to empower entrepreneurs across Arkansas through higher education and other regional initiatives, spurring economic growth that retains local talent in communities across the state. 

SEED, which stands for Startups, Education and Economic Development, will assemble a diverse array of business and academic leaders, with more than a dozen cities and institutions of higher education represented from across Arkansas. 

"The higher-education landscape is changing, and economic development trends are fluctuating as communities are shifting from recruiting large industries to cultivating entrepreneurial support," said Tiffany Henry, instructional designer of training and workshops at the U of A Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation, which is organizing SEED. 

"Our goal is to help equip smaller universities in Arkansas with tools and resources that allow them to collaborate with community leaders to grow student entrepreneurs. These partnerships contribute to the attraction and retention of multidisciplinary students and keep entrepreneurial talent local." 

This unique conference, sponsored by the Sam M. Walton College of Business, will be held Oct. 11-12, and include workshops at the Fayetteville Public Library, an integral part of the innovation corridor in downtown Fayetteville. Topics include entrepreneurial ecosystem building; innovative problem solving; funding strategies to implement entrepreneurial programming; and how to engage local business to bridge the town and gown divide.  

"The SEED Arkansas Summit will help lay the foundation for how communities with higher education institutions can equip students and community members with an entrepreneurial mindset," said Matt Waller, dean of the Sam M. Walton College of Business.  

"I look forward to collaborating with peers from across Arkansas to build infrastructure that supports entrepreneurs and revitalizes local economies. This work directly reflects the mission at the University of Arkansas, helping to solve difficult problems, promote inclusivity, and provide transformational opportunities that benefit Arkansans." 

Maria Meyers, executive director of the University of Missouri-Kansas City Innovation Center and founder of SourceLink, will be the keynote speaker. Established in 2003, SourceLink uses a mix of technology, community engagement and measurement to cultivate entrepreneurial ecosystems that improve economic vitality, according to its website.

To begin building that infrastructure, Meyers said communities need to identify local and regional resources. 

"Cultivating strong collaborative relationships between the entrepreneur support organizations and establishing a central access point can generate awareness and help to better understand gaps in services," she said. "Once the base connections are made, collaborative new programming can fill gaps and make your region known for entrepreneurship." 

OEI program managers from the McMillon Innovation Studio, Startup Village, and the Venture Intern Program (VIP), will showcase the U of A's entrepreneurial programming through "Ted Talk"-style presentations, and attendees will engage in small group discussions about strengthening their local ecosystems.   

Randy Wilburn, a consultant at the Zweig Group and founder of the I Am Northwest Arkansas podcast, will moderate a panel of university and community leaders from across the state  

"The inaugural SEED Summit should be a proving ground for ideation and growth initiatives for businesses and thought leaders who want to see the Natural State reach its full economic potential," Wilburn said. 

The summit will also include OEI's fall seed funding pitch competition, which is sponsored by 46VC, an investment firm based in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Student innovation teams will be able to pitch their idea for up to $2,000 in funding toward customer discovery, prototype development, market research, legal and design. 

Those interested in attending the conference should contact Tiffany Henry, OEI's instructional designer of training and workshops, no later than Friday, Sept. 16. Faculty leaders and university staff interested in entrepreneurship, innovation and student program development are encouraged to attend. For more information, visit the summit webpage.  

The registration fee is $75 and includes one night of lodging at The Graduate in Fayetteville; all meals during the event, admittance to a networking reception and seed funding contest. 

About the U of A Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation: The Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation creates and curates innovation and entrepreneurship experiences for students across all disciplines. Through the Brewer Family Entrepreneurship Hub, McMillon Innovation Studio, Startup Village, and Greenhouse at the Bentonville Collaborative, the Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation provides free workshops and programs — including social and corporate innovation design teams, venture internships, competitions and startup coaching. A unit of the Sam M. Walton College of Business and Division of Economic Development, the Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation  also offers on-demand support for students who will be innovators within existing organizations and entrepreneurs who start something new.

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