Born to Be an Entrepreneur

By Jordan P. Hickey and Lindsay Irvin on Thursday, March 31, 2022

Local entrepreneur Adam Jackson started AR Cloth Masks to provide schools with masks during the pandemic.

There’s a certain chicken-or-the-egg-ness when it comes to explaining just what makes an entrepreneur—whether it’s nature or nurture that gives rise to that certain set of personality traits that seem tailored to that profession. Because from the outside looking in, it seems entrepreneurs have been naturally predisposed to this work. Like how a labrador retriever has webbed feet. Or the way that a sunflower bends its neck to follow the sun.

But that’s not all.

To hear professionals in the field explain it, what paves the road for a budding entrepreneur is often something that can be chalked up to a simple fact: Entrepreneurs have a knack for seeing a problem. And they’re clear-eyed and innovative enough to see a solution.

"I do think that there's an entrepreneurial spirit that some people are born with, where it's like, 'I am solution-oriented, I'm innovative; I don't see the world for what it is, I see it for what it could be,” says Kim Lane, a longtime fixture in the startup ecosystem who now serves as COO of Right to Start, an entrepreneurial policy startup, and Business Lead for Facebook Elevate, which offers support to Black and Latinx SMBs.

But, as Lane goes on to say, that innate entrepreneurial drive can be cultivated: “When you start to teach those principles, it gives hope and inspiration — that things that can be created when maybe there isn't help already.”

In recent years, opportunities for that cultivation in Arkansas have increased dramatically — and long since eclipsed the prototypical young-entrepreneur training ground of the neighborhood lemonade stand. Where before enterprising entrepreneurs had to find their own way through the commercial ecosystem, there are now a long list of programs, both local and national, that are offering opportunities like none other before.

“Arkansas has tons of free resources for entrepreneurs,” Lane says. “Junior Achievement is a great example, but then there are lots of resources like the Arkansas Small Business Technology Development Center, which is housed at UA Little Rock. The Innovation Hub. The Venture Center. And then there are lots of pitch competitions offered throughout the state."

Adam Jackson, an already-successful entrepreneur at age 23 and senior at the University of Arkansas (spotlighted on page 70), credits his school for giving him tools that helped him find success. “The University of Arkansas has put a lot of time and effort into entrepreneurship,” he says. “The McMillon Innovation Studio and Brewer Entrepreneurship Hub are both great ways for prospective movers and shakers to get their feet wet.”

Raleigh Woods
The McMillon Innovation Studio offers mentorships and resources for entrepreneurs and innovators.

Jackson recommends UA students participate in its Venture Intern Program. “This program pairs students of all disciplines with local startups for a 12-week paid internship,” he says. “I participated in the first-ever cohort and loved it so much that I am currently doing it again before I graduate.” The program’s director Deb Williams “has helped me immensely throughout my time at the university. She started the program and has grown it exponentially since then.”

Other Arkansas colleges are earning notoriety for their educational programs, degree programs and support channels for young entrepreneurs. As a whole, Arkansas has an abundant mix of resources to help the next generation of entrepreneurs.

The truth is, however, there are as many paths to being an entrepreneur as there are entrepreneurs. Everyone finds their own way. Some people are exclusively self-taught. Others find success through a series of programs or mentorships. In recent years, higher education has taken a more active role in boosting the resources available to aspiring entrepreneurs — something which has been particularly important in areas like Northwest Arkansas where the startup culture has grown exponentially in recent years.

Suffice to say, institutions like the University of Arkansas have taken notice — and tailored their curriculum and programs for just that culture.

For the better part of two decades, the entrepreneurship and innovation office on the University of Arkansas campus was limited to graduate students. However, for the past several years, the department has expanded to allow undergraduates to participate, effectively increasing the number of students involved from 50 to 900.

They’ve also expanded their program offerings, most notably through the McMillon Innovation Studio, a cross-disciplinary, campus-spanning hub that connects “students from across the university to real-world problems, organizations, and mentors to help deliver valuable project-based learning, training in innovation methodologies, and connections to last a lifetime.” In addition, since 2019, they’ve provided undergraduate students like Jackson with a chance to take part in the local startup economy with semester-long internships through the Venture Intern Program.

“Ultimately, the goal is to really support the regional ecosystem goals of developing this entrepreneurial ecosystem and creating this pipeline from the university from the student development side of things,” says Deb Williams, Director of Student programs for the Walton College of Business. “It's just really important to help support the growth in the region.”

Raleigh Woods
The Brewer Family Entrepreneurship Hub is a coworking space and training center for budding innovators, offering one-on-one consultations with experts, free workshops and more in northwest Arkansas.

Still, as Williams notes, the skillsets and toolkits that students acquire through these programs aren’t just relevant to would-be entrepreneurs. Skills like problem solving, communication, and knowing how and when to self-teach are vital no matter who you are. More than that, these skills transcend industries and specialites because they’re vital for success in any workplace or environment.

“In five years, the jobs are going to be totally different than they are right now, so how do you prepare for that?” Williams says. “Anytime I talk with a freshman, anytime I talk with their parents, or anytime I talk with someone who’s here, I always say, 'Hey, go try a million different things. See what you're interested in and see what sticks. But always be thinking about skills that you can develop, because you don't know what's going to be out there for you when you graduate.”

Local Resources for Budding Entrepreneurs

ASBTDC serves every county in Arkansas, with headquarters at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. Entrepreneurs receive free one-on-one consulting and cutting-edge market research at campuses across the state in hopes of turning big ideas into businesses.

A partnership between the University of Central Arkansas and Startup Junkie. Its Makerspace offers machines to prototype concepts, invent and take ideas to the next level.

A learning and startup hub through the Central Arkansas Library System in Little Rock. It promotes entrepreneurship for under-resourced communities, including a business incubator program for women and Black and Hispanic Arkansans.

A part of the Sam Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas The Studio trains students to be innovative and connects them with industry mentors.

CACHE is for arts entrepreneurs, offering business toolkits and information on grants and funding.

Helping to advance economic equity, entrepreneurship and community engagement in the Arkansas Delta.

Entrepreneurs with serious big ideas apply to be supported, mentored, connected and invested in.

An innovation hub powered by Go Forward Pine Bluff. Check out the makerspace.

A support group for entrepreneurs that helps them launch high-growth businesses.

With networks in Little Rock and NWA, this organization connects volunteer mentors with small businesses.

No-cost, one-on-one consulting, workshops and more programs for budding entrepreneurs.

An accelerator program specifically built for Black and minority businesses; based in Bentonville.

Major in Entrepreneurship

Did you know that some Arkansas colleges and universities offer certificates and degrees in entrepreneurship? One of the newest bachelor's degree programs in Arkansas is at the University of Central Arkansas. The UCA College of Business’ new bachelor’s of business administration degree in Innovation and Entrepreneurship offers a blend of courses aimed at nurturing natural problem solvers and creative thinkers. Highlights include networking and internships with companies like HP, Dillard’s, Target and Sherwin Williams.

The business school’s Rising Stars Mentorship Program is another awesome tool for young go-getters, and UCA's Makerspace offers inventors a free, equipped space to invent and take ideas to the next level. The school's partnership with The Conductor allows for further entrepreneurial development.


Take the $10 Challenge!

Economics Arkansas and Stephens Inc. invite innovative and entrepreneurial-minded students to win cash, certificates and medallions! The $10 challenge? Well, it’s how it sounds. Using that small amount of money, you must start a real business. Then, submit a story about your idea and how it went launching the business, including a timeline of activities and a response to the question: ‘What did you learn through this experience?’ Your stories must be submitted as a graphic novel using Pixton’s comic book feature—now how cool is that?!

Want more competition? Compete in Economics Arkansas’ Pitch It! Challenge too. Pitch a new business idea before a panel of judges to win prize money.

6 Essential Traits of an Entrepreneur

In his bestselling book “Entrepreneurial LEAP,” Gino Wickman reveals six traits a person MUST possess to be a true entrepreneur. Per Wickman, these are innate and non-negotiable. You must be…

1. A visionary

2. Passionate

3. A problem-solver

4. Driven

5. A risk-taker

6. Responsible