Spark! is a pre-accelerator program produced by The Venture Center and the Little Rock Regional Chamber. Spark! offers free office space in The Venture Center while providing mentorship and training to launch the cohort’s businesses to the next level of growth.
The Spark! Within A Small Business
By: Brandon Campbell
On October 2, 2018, after ten years of running my company Little Rock Fashion Week, LLC (LRFW) – a local fashion, events and talent management firm that owns fashion weeks in Little Rock, Baton Rouge and Plano (TX) – I started a new phase of my career as Director of Small Business and Inclusion at the Little Rock Regional Chamber.
I guide small businesses in the Little Rock region to help facilitate economic growth, including minority and women-owned businesses. I connect business owners and entrepreneurs to resources and leverage my own experience as an entrepreneur.
Before working at the chamber, I didn’t know of several resources for entrepreneurs in Central Arkansas. Here I was operating a business in Little Rock without receiving any technical assistance, mentorship, or funding. I don’t recall teachings on how to scale businesses in my college entrepreneurship classes. I didn’t know how to go about getting help, so I did what most small business owners do. I kept my head down and worked.
When I started LRFW, my vision was to build a business that would employ several and attract talent to relocate to the city I love more than any other. However, things happened, and the large business I imagined became small yet steady, profitable, and impactful. From my experience running a small business in the Rock, I now work to support those “little engines that could.”
Through the research of trying to foster an inclusive entrepreneur ecosystem, I stumbled upon interesting programs in comparable cities. A competition offering free office space to home-based startups stood out. My chamber economic development teammates liked it but agreed that The Venture Center was best suited to develop and manage such an initiative. I pitched it to The Venture Center leadership, and they loved it. Collaboration is part of The Venture Center’s mission, so it was no surprise that The Venture Center wanted to collaborate. We all wanted an authentic program that was specific to our small business community and tackled the business growth challenge.
From there, Spark!, a 14-week pre-accelerator for existing local small businesses, was born! Launched on September 18, 2019, Spark! provides small businesses with free office space inside The Venture Center, cheap parking downtown, and access to similar resources provided to larger technology companies that participate in The Venture Center’s world-renowned FIS FinTech Accelerator and ICBA ThinkTech Accelerator!
Six companies were chosen (three of which owned by women) for this inaugural opportunity. Every week business owners attend “lunch and learns” featuring a local resource partner, introducing them to ways to grow. Spark! is a bootcamp that I so badly want to be a part of! I joke with The Venture Center team that I’m envious of these businesses. I see myself as an unofficial, honorary member of the cohort. I’m pleased to be invited as a chamber executive to attend the weekly sessions. I’m elated to be a resource in ways others were for me, and provide any guidance so they can benefit from my experiences. I’m invested in the success of these six companies and other small businesses in Little Rock. If they succeed, then we all succeed.