The next generation of Arkansas Entrepreneurs are being educated in Arkansas colleges and universities right now. As one of those entrepreneurs, David Allan came with ideas to BarCamp and spurred an extraordinary discussion.
David Allan of Acorn Hours and Hendrix College led a presentation at BarCamp Conway in April on the topic of Education the Next Generation of Entrepreneurs.
Allans’ ideas sprang from his and Sreesh Reddy’s own experience in launching a startup while still in college.
The two began Acorn Hours prior to their Senior year after winning the 2013 Startup Weekend in Little Rock. Allan and Reddy told me they received a tremendous amount of support from organizations such as Innovate Arkansas, the Arkansas Innovation Hub and the Arkansas Venture Center.
David offered two different topics to his presentation. First, he gave three different reasons to start a business in college. Finally, Allan offered ideas on “What can the Startup Arkansas network (community) do to encourage entrepreneurship in Arkansas?”
Following his content, he led a very good discussion on helping future students to take an interest in being an entrepreneur.
Reasons to start a business in while still in college
Room to fail
As Allan pointed out, being a student is a unique time. Whether or not a business succeeds while one is still a student, the student still has some safety nets in place. For instance, they are living in student housing or living with roommates in apartments or houses. They usually know where the next meal is coming from (the cafeteria) and they have fewer of the expenses than someone who has a family and certain number of financial expenses to be responsible for.
A student, often, has a framework in place to take of his or her needs. Their job is a student, they have scholarships and/or financing to pay for school and other needs. If a company fails, they lose very little in terms of their livelihood.
Resources in the university community
Allan points out the wealth of resources at a college or university. Students have access to libraries, professors, alumni and others who are willing to help. Most colleges and universities have plenty of internet capability for the average startup business. Studens live in the middle of their city’s epicenter for resources.
Starting a business can be fun. It is fun to watch an idea move from conception to reality. Experiencing your first sale, your first customer and income creates excitement. It also allows you to work with people who can become some of your best friends.
After this segment, Allan turned to things he thinks that the Arkansas Startup community can do to encourage entrepreneurship. His ideas, he said, were to add to and not replace many of the resources that are already available in the startup community.
Entrepreneur encouragement for students
Here, Allan is referring to something a bit more non-traditional. He thought maybe a startup competition that utilizes the a tool like the Lean Canvas. He stated that while he was an alumn of the Governor’s Cup, he was thinking something a little more like the Startup Weekend format.
The two types of competitions are compatible and serve different purposes. The Governor’s Cup can be great for schools that want to put a lot of time and resources into it. It is also a way to get research ideas from the university out into the world. A lean canvas competition or “Business Model Competition” would be a much smaller event that would focus on student’s ability to shift their ideas in response to different scenarios thrown out at them
What is a business startup without capital? Where does that capital come from? Allan would like to see capital for student startups to help encourage. One idea he mentioned was using a very small amount allocated from a school’s endowment.
Allan followed up on this point via email:
The main idea here is that students who have a viable idea could have enough money to turn their idea into a real testable solution so they can get experience going through the iteration process.
Finally, Allan believed that to help encourage students, there needs to be some kind of mentor network in place.
Allan said there is clearly a network in place, but he thinks that knowledge about the network needs to be expanded in order to see different kinds of students be involved.
Seeking a perspective, I gave Jeff Amerine a call.
Jeff Amerine is Director of Technology Ventures at the University of Arkansas, consultant for Startup Junkies and Advisor at Innovate Arkansas. Amerine is very involved in the startup scene in Arkansas as well as working with students.
“K-12 needs to get out of the traditional education paradigm,” he said referring to the need to involve more experiential learning.
He lauded Overwatch founder, Josh Moody, as the poster child for the new kind of student. Moody’s Overwatch won the 2013 ARK Challenge and has seen his company explode with interest and funding. Here is a student who wasn’t content to learn things in the classroom, he created something.
Amerine agreed with Allan’s assessment of learning and creating as a student.
About entrepreneurship as a student, he said that students can . . “ learn more than you can learn in any class and the risk is relatively low.”
Amerine believes all of the elements that Allan mentioned as needed are in place. Of course, they still may not be as known as they should be.
There are different things, some are still in the works, that are available to students to help encourage entrepreneurship including maker and co-working spaces, mentorship programs, resources, different avenues to create initiatives for funding student startups and more.
Amerine believes that “Kristian Andersen laid the template for what it takes to get a startup/venture community built,” and it is being put in place including nurturing the student entrepreneur ecosystem.
This past week, Andersen’s Arkansas Fellowship announced its first class. I believe many of the elements needed are being established. The University of Arkansas is a premier institution for entrepreneurship and, recently, the Arkansas Venture Center was launched by Mike Steele and Lee Watson. The culture is being nurtured, and, I believe, students are being included.
In addition to the college students, the high school students are excited to be apart. Led by students like Sydney Brazil, Noble Impact is taking learning to a new level, and several students from the organization have already participated in the 1 Million Cups Little Rock presentations.
The University of Central Arkansas also has an Innovation and Entrepreneurship Program and students there have already started launching businesses. Some have taken advantage of the new top level domain .BUZZ to do so. In doing so, many of these students received invaluable, real-world experience.
In conclusion, Arkansas is building an ecosystem for entrepreneurship and innovation, not just for adults, but students as well. David Allan of Acorn Hours is a leader and is lending his own experience and advice to other students. It is this kind of investment, not just from students, but Arkansas business leaders, that will help preserve business life in Arkansas as well as thrive in the future.