Follow-up to: NWAEA Center for Economic Development
It was over two years ago, in the wake of losing my job at an architecture firm, when I decided that I was going to give this thing called ‘entrepreneurship’ a shot. The people of my world thought I was completely nuts. Unfortunately, not only did I lose my career in architecture during that time period, but also I lost the support and companionship from a lot of friends and family.
For me, announcing to my world that I was going to become, to them, this foreign word, ‘entrepreneur,’ was like jumping off a cliff. There was no turning back.
I knew nothing about starting a business; I was a designer through and through. I had no network, no money to fall back on, no business sense, heck, I didn’t even know what a pro-forma was.
I will be honest; I was scared to death and had not a clue as to where to begin or where I would end up.
People all over take that same jump into entrepreneurship everyday. Most of these people don’t have a network, resources, business experience, or support. They have an idea; they are fearless and they are tenacious.
Today, nearly three years later, I am trying relentlessly to fill the voids where support and resources lack for entrepreneurs. I am a huge advocate and supporter for entrepreneurship in Northwest Arkansas and I do everything in my power to help support, network and provide these resources for these people as often and as much as possible. I don’t have all the right answers, but I have experiences I can share and support I can lend. Believe it or not, sometimes that’s all it takes to keep an aspiring entrepreneur encouraged to fight another day.
So how do we fill these voids?
Step 1: Provide a forum and facilitate an engagement for local entrepreneurs.
Almost two years ago, this happened naturally when Maurice Elliott and I met. We began meeting each Wednesday to do everything I have mentioned and reflected upon above. Since that time just over a year ago, what started as two people around a coffee table, has now become a non-profit organization of more than 250 people in our email list and meet-ups every other Wednesday with an average of 40/members at each meet-up. Our members range from all backgrounds including students, entrepreneurs, small business owners, lawyers, accountants, investors, and more.
Today our mission is simple. The Northwest Arkansas Entrepreneurship Alliance serves to stimulate innovation and economic growth in Northwest Arkansas. Through mentorship, education, resources, and community, NWAEA is a catalyst for building new and successful ventures throughout the region.
Step 2: Provide an ongoing resource and support hub for local entrepreneurs.
When outlining this step, we (NWAEA) have really pressed hard on tying together the fundamentals of what NWAEA is built upon (support, resources, collaboration, networking, etc) and have aligned them with this idea of co-working.
There is a lively population of entrepreneurs who reside here in NWA, yet there is no designated physical location to organize, collaborate, support, or to network. These entrepreneurs take to overcrowded coffee shops, libraries, etc. We have identified a true need for a space that not only allows for a home for this type of culture, but a support network and resource hub that facilitates and advocates for entrepreneurship in Northwest Arkansas.
The Iceberg will provide for a high-energy hub of entrepreneurial camaraderie and knowledge sharing. This facility will become a place where idea- and early-stage startups and entrepreneurs, as well as their support groups, work, collaborate, network and learn together. Sponsorships, general memberships, day passes, part-time and full-time co-working memberships are available at affordable rates. This unique opportunity allows for entrepreneurs from all backgrounds and industries to be present in one setting. This in turn breeds a culture with the same benefits of ‘scale’ without being at ‘scale.’ While The Iceberg is an extension of NWAEA, Inc., it is important to note its role in the economic development forecasts for not only Fayetteville but for all of Northwest Arkansas.
The Iceberg has been modeled off many successful co-working facilities nationally as well as internationally, all while integrating the fundamentals of NWAEA.
It is important to note that The Iceberg is not a business venture, but a communal workspace and resource hub for business ventures. Neither myself, nor NWAEA seek any monetary return on investment, but meter success more by the number of jobs and businesses created in Fayetteville and Northwest Arkansas through entrepreneurship.
Call to Action:
While there are membership fees that will allow for The Iceberg to sustain itself over a period of time, sponsorships will be needed to cover operational costs. These sponsorships will also allow sponsors to have a unique relationship with the entrepreneurship community of Northwest Arkansas.
Over the past few years, I have heard and taken part in the entrepreneurial community expressing the need for resources, such as The Iceberg. Now is the time to make these resources a reality. Now is the time for each of us to make good on our word that we will do what it takes to support and provide resources for the entrepreneurs in our region. Let us all stop talking about it and start doing it in whatever ways we can.
The Iceberg truly has the chance to revolutionize the entrepreneurship community in NWA. Will you be a part of that revolution?