By James Hendren, PhD
ESOs, or Entrepreneurial Support Organizations, are essential to communities with vibrant economies. While some may not be aware of ESOs and their role within a community, the work they do to build and scale companies affect many. Companies that are huge employers don’t materialize out of thin air. They start somewhere. They start at the beginning, at the bottom, and their founders work extremely hard to grow them. It’s well known that Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos started Amazon in his garage, and now his company is one of the biggest employers in the world. And if you consider the large companies here in Arkansas, you’ll recognize that most of them began as small entrepreneurial startups including Acxiom, Arkansas Systems (now Euronet Worldwide), Walmart, and Apptegy. Apptegy actually started as an idea mentored and started in The Venture Center.
Entrepreneurial Support Organizations like The Venture Center helps nurture the ideas that become startups and help fuel growth for startups to become huge employers. These efforts grow our community in many ways, starting with giving our best and brightest students a way to control their destiny, stay in our community, and build their opportunities. Successful ESOs can help demonstrate to our students that there are great jobs here and that they have even more significant opportunities to be on a startup team bringing something new to the marketplace.
ESOs also help give talented people who have been marginalized due to any number of factors an opportunity to build a financially secure future. At The Venture Center, we see many startup founders who come from extraordinarily difficult circumstances. With the help of mentorship and networking at The Venture Center, they have the chance to make something big happen – right here in Central Arkansas. Having an ESO in the community means an opportunity to make something big happen within that community.
Creating economic strength in a community is another way ESOs aid communities. Competing with other locations that may only look ‘greener’ by demonstrating the availability of resources and mentorship is extremely powerful and can be a huge factor in keeping talent local. Additionally, the draw of an ESO to out-of-town talent is strong for an entrepreneur who seeks a vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem.
The value of an ESO extends beyond startups, though, and is deeply impactful for all members of a community. With a robust offering of community programs like The Venture Center’s Lunch N Learns, VCWorkshops, VCChats, and more, workforce members learn skills and make connections valuable to them and their employers. Employees learn a lot about how companies work, grow their ability to see the bigger picture, and ultimately become more valuable to their employers through the things they learn from the ESO.
And while people generally like to learn about new trends and opportunities, ESOs like The Venture Center truly build a better-educated workforce through community events delving into the latest and greatest. Greater creativity and collaboration are natural by-products of these imagination-stretching events and benefit both the employer and the employee. Everyone wins when a strong ESO is driving education, collaboration, and acceleration.
Arkansas has several ESOs, and they all have various offerings to entrepreneurs and for volunteers seeking to help entrepreneurs. The Venture Center in Little Rock is always happy to be a resource, so be sure to follow them on social channels, sign up for their email blasts, and keep an eye on their calendars. And, they are always around for consultation, so anyone with questions about how to get involved should reach out to email@example.com. Who knows, you may be the one person to help the next Acxiom – or be the founder of the next Acxiom!