Updated Feb 21, 2024 - News

The Shift: Venture capitalists immersed in NWA

A photo of Arkansas Sec. of Commerce holding a microphone and speaking to a group of people.

Secretary of Commerce Hugh McDonald. Photo: Worth Sparkman/Axios

There's never been a better time to launch a company in a Bentonville-type city, Blair Garrou, managing director of Houston's Mercury Fund, told Worth.

  • A mix of growth, opportunity and available investment capital were the context for his comments.

Driving the news: About 60 people attended an introduction lunch Tuesday in Bentonville for the inaugural Venture Capital Immersion.

Startup NWA, an arm of the Northwest Arkansas Council, convened a curated group of startup entrepreneurs and six tier 1 venture capital firms resulting in 28 meetings.

Why it matters: Access to investment helps young companies grow and builds on NWA's entrepreneurial ecosystem — and its shift to a more diversified economy.

The big picture: Arkansas Secretary of Commerce Hugh McDonald provided the group a broad overview of the business environment in the state, noting two tax cuts made in the past year.

  • McDonald "expects" a third tax cut when the Arkansas Legislature's fiscal session begins next month.
  • "We're trying to elevate the importance of entrepreneurship as a key prong to our economic development strategy," he said.

Details: Representatives from the funds came from San Francisco; Austin and Houston, Texas; St. Louis and Kansas City, Missouri; and Miami.

  • Many of the startups are based in NWA, while others have offices in the region and a few were from a two-hour flight away, Serafina Lalany with the NWA Council told Worth.
  • The startup companies and the venture capital firms alike were focused on software as a service (SaaS).

The intrigue: Despite all that's been done in NWA to build entrepreneurialism, angel investment has plummeted since 2017, Lalany said.

  • Yes, but: Institutional investors are deploying more capital than ever before in NWA — a record $200 million in 2022 and more than $120 million in the first nine months of last year.

Of note: Lalany, who marshaled a similar group in Houston before moving to NWA, said Startup NWA plans to hold another four to six immersion events this year.

What they're saying: "One of my big learnings from back in Houston was that the real inflection point is when we can get one big exit," Lalany said.

  • "That's really when the magic happens."

🤑 The Shift is a regular feature to catch up quick on what's happening in Arkansas' economy and entrepreneurial ecosystem.

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