Arkansas Capital Scan Unveils Growth, Shortcomings in Investment Landscape

Arkansas Capital Scan Unveils Growth, Shortcomings in Investment Landscape
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Venture capital dollars flowing into Arkansas-based startups have more than quadrupled annually since 2020, according to the 2022 Arkansas Capital Scan released today by the Northwest Arkansas Council.

Arkansas witnessed a surge in venture capital investments in 2022, totaling $270.8 million across 26 companies – a 117% increase from the previous year. Northwest Arkansas continued to drive the majority of venture capital funding, representing 65.4% of all deals in the state. 

On the other hand, Arkansas still pales in comparison to most states. Non-coastal states such as Michigan, Ohio and Utah, for instance, each draw billions of dollars of venture capital funding each year. Angel investments, which come from individuals putting up their own money rather than from a venture capital firm, also showed a downward trend and lagged behind Arkansas’ neighbors.

“This important research underscores the significant investments being made to develop a community of founders and investors in Northwest Arkansas, but we have a long way to go,” said Nelson Peacock, president and CEO of the Northwest Arkansas Council. “We’re striving to make Northwest Arkansas one of the best places in the country for startups, and this report provides important tools for Arkansas leaders to consider to develop effective policies and strategies to drive innovation and economic success across the state.”

Now in its third year, the Capital Scan project was developed in partnership with the U of A Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation with a grant from the Walton Family Foundation. It aims to shed light on the availability of early and growth-stage capital for Arkansas-based startups and small businesses, painting a picture of Arkansas' economic resilience and evolving investment landscape.

“The goal of the report is to quantify an understanding of the availability of capital across the state, as many of the policies and incentives that support entrepreneurship are statewide,” said Sarah Goforth, executive director of the Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the U of A's Sam M. Walton College of Business. “And while not all small businesses and startups are seeking venture capital or bank loans, the flow of capital to early-stage companies is a good proxy for the health of an entrepreneurial community.”

KEY ECONOMIC HIGHLIGHTS

Despite global trends indicating a decline in equity-based investments, Arkansas saw exceptional growth, including a 47.9% increase in business applications compared to 2019. Changes to state tax regulations in 2022 also reduced individual and corporate income tax rates, positioning Arkansas as having the fourth-lowest cost of doing business in the country.

Two years after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Arkansas’ growth continued, surpassing the recovery boom of 2021. More than $270.7 million in institutional venture capital was invested into 26 Arkansas-based startup companies in 2022, compared with $16.4 million in 2020 and $127.4 million in 2021.

These investments supported a diverse range of industries, with notable growth in the advanced mobility, agriculture and fintech sectors. Of the three comparator states analyzed in the report (Tennessee, Missouri and Oklahoma), only Oklahoma saw growth in later stage venture capital activity between 2021 and 2022.

At the same time, investment at the earliest stages slowed in Arkansas in 2022 and across all comparator states. Just over $17.7 million in angel investment was deployed in Arkansas in 2022, compared with $55.3 million in 2021. The average deal size also decreased by 60%, reflecting changes in funding dynamics. Despite challenges, key sectors such as consumer products and services, information technology and health care received notable early-stage investments.

Businesses founded by women and people of color received less than their counterparts as well, highlighting the need for inclusive growth strategies to ensure equitable distribution of venture capital.

REGIONAL INSIGHTS

The report shows significant regional variations in capital access, indicating that Northwest and Central Arkansas dominated the angel/seed investment scene with 95% of all deals in the state.

Northwest Arkansas-based companies also received the lion’s share of investment at the later stages of institutional venture capital, totaling $207.9 million. Central Arkansas-based companies received a total of $62.9 million in investment. No institutional venture capital investments were reported in other regions of the state.

The report also includes a special section on crowdfunding, showcasing a 92% increase in funds raised in 2022 compared to the previous year. Crowdfunding campaigns in Arkansas, totaling $2,832,300, exemplify the accessibility and attractiveness of this relatively new funding avenue for entrepreneurs. 

Read the full report here.

About Northwest Arkansas Council: Founded in 1990 by Sam Walton, J.B. Hunt, Don Tyson and several other business leaders, the Northwest Arkansas Council serves as a regional convener for economic and community initiatives. The council excels at identifying challenges and championing solutions to enhance the prosperity of the Northwest Arkansas region. Key initiatives include work to advance quality of life, attract talent, improve the region’s workforce, create job opportunities, upgrade infrastructure and keep up with the region’s impressive growth. For more information, visit nwacouncil.org.

About the University of Arkansas Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation: The Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the University of Arkansas 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.

About the University of Arkansas: As Arkansas' flagship institution, the U of A provides an internationally competitive education in more than 200 academic programs. Founded in 1871, the U of A contributes more than $2.2 billion to Arkansas’ economy through the teaching of new knowledge and skills, entrepreneurship and job development, discovery through research and creative activity while also providing training for professional disciplines. The Carnegie Foundation classifies the U of A among the few U.S. colleges and universities with the highest level of research activity. U.S. News & World Report ranks the U of A among the top public universities in the nation. See how the U of A works to build a better world at Arkansas Research and Economic Development News.

Contacts

Nate Green, communications director
Northwest Arkansas Council
501-650-4653, nate@nwacouncil.org

Brandon Howard, communication and social media specialist
Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation
501-707-5779, bjhoward@uark.edu

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