Jeff Amerine, founder of Startup Junkie in 2008 was one of the speakers at the Economic Development Summit presented by North Arkansas College on Thursday, Oct. 28.
Amerine “landed” in Harrison after his father stopped traveling with the military. “It was a refreshing place to land,” he says. He graduated from Harrison High School in 1980 and after time in the Air Force and college has held senior leadership positions in nine startups and three Fortune 500 companies, and he has made more than 80 angel investments into new ventures and small businesses either directly or through the funds he manages.”
He is very passionate about supporting entrepreneurs, equipping them with advice and innovative solutions at no cost. Amerine has assembled an impressive team of successful business leaders, entrepreneurs, attorneys, teachers, international investment professionals and more.
He told the group, “I had an itch to challenge the status quo and to try and build something new. I spent time in telecommunications and prepaid cellular and software. I can tell you the entrepreneur journey and small business journey — that engagement when you leave a nice paying job with a large enterprise and everyone thinks you are crazy. That’s a hard undertaking. But those entrepreneurs and those small businesses are the backbone of everything that matters.”
Amerine and his partner Jeff Standridge decided the story needed to be told in a book. “We needed people to realize if we can be a part of a movement in Northwest Arkansas and Central Arkansas that changes lives and helps build great businesses, and improves the success rate of early stage ventures — if we can do it here, it can be done anywhere. That’s why we named it Building Sustainable Venture Eco Systems in Unexpected Places.”
“The best, hardest working people are in the heartland, there’s no question. I see it every day. More grit. More tasking. More ability to get things done with less resources. Just think about the stories of Sam Walton, JB Hunt, The Tyson Family and Sheridan Garrison who built amazing publicly traded businesses in an area that by every measure had every disadvantage you could imagine. But if they could do it, there’s no reason why Boone County and many places in rural America can’t do it,” he said.
“The Conductor is a public/private partnership between Startup Junkie and the University of Central Arkansas and has been in place for about six years. The mission of Startup Junkie and The Conductor teams is to ask ourselves ‘How can we inspire and empower entrepreneurs, innovators and makers?’ These are the people who are trying to do the hard things to build the next great businesses.”
Amerine said, “The Kauffman Foundation, which is the one of the preeminent think tanks on entrepreneurism in the world located in Kansas City, Missouri estimates that in the past 25 years, 85% of all net new jobs creations came from startups. The SBA stats are somewhere between two out of three. The majority of all net new jobs come from the things entrepreneurs and small businesses try to do.”
Small businesses represent about 99% of all employers and about 50% of all employees in the US.
“We serve small businesses and startups across every sector — from food trucks, software companies, consumer packaged goods. We are here to follow all commerce following a dream,” he said.
“Startup and small business is very hard and the failure rate is extremely hard. Thirty-six percent of startups fail because they built something, a product or service that nobody wants,” he said.
The teams work to understand what the individual is wanting to create. Then they offer mentoring, counseling and training to get them beyond the points that typically cause failures.
“If we can work with them, with some mentoring, tools and counseling we have, then their one year and five year success rate can increase dramatically and from that will flow the job creation and economic vitality we are looking for,” he said.
“The team has several intuitive, scientific methods of testing, validating, proving or disproving assumptions about your business. We give clients a framework to be successful.”
Amerine describes what they do as “creative collisions,” he said. “Whenever we get events like this, there is an intentional idea to get people in the same room who didn’t know they needed to know each other. Inevitably those connections are powerful,” he said. “There are usually about 1,000 mentoring sessions with entrepreneurs with a team of 30 people a year. We host about 250 events a year and the past 18 months they have primarily been digital.”
The pieces of the Startup Junkie framework are four pillars.
“Part of that success of a community is to realize SuperMan is not going to parachute in and change the direction of the community,” he said. “It’s key to figure out how to help existing businesses grow and how to get new entrepreneurs going. There are cities in the state that are waiting for the next big manufacturer to come into the state. They don’t focus near enough to grow and build the entrepreneurial scene.”
Amerine reiterated that all of their services are free. “I learned as a startup that trying to do business with customers without money is a really bad bet. But those businesses and startups need the kind of support required to move them to the next level.”
“We’ve convinced the SBA, Walton Family Foundation, AEDA, and others that it is a good bet because it is going to add to the economic vitality of the area,” he said.
“Getting world class consultants at no cost — it’s not that we don’t want them to have skin in the game. But we want those entrepreneurs to be able to focus on the humble beginning. Build a great business, focus on product, make sure they understand sales, and make sure they build a great product and deliver it the right way.”
North Arkansas President, Dr. Rick Massengale introduced the speaker Jeff Amerine and said, “We’ve heard Steuart Walton speak about entrepreneurship and innovation and that is the direction the college is really wanting to go. There is something special happening in the Ozarks. We’ve been dreaming at the college and you’ve been dreaming too. We’ve gotta get out of the mindset that “this is how we’ve always done it.” There are opportunities here. We’ve got the perfect situation — businesses, industry and education all working together and make Harrison the destination. Northark is doing things the big schools are doing. We’ve got data science, robotic — we are only one of six institutions in the United States including four-year schools that do robotics training. A lot of neat things are in transition right now. We’ve got to compete with a world that will change every day for the next 20 years. When Jeff Amerine and Grace Rains speak about innovation just remember that Northark wants to partner with local industry and share resources with the school system. As Steuart Walton said, ‘Let’s be Harrison’ and build it up from within. If we build it from within and on solid ground we can withstand trials and tribulations that will come along. We know the college doesn’t have all the answers, but we are willing to try anything. We want to be innovative and be your partner. We are here to be your educational destination.”
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