The Story of Little Bird is a Story That Encapsulates the Key Reasons Northwest Arkansas is Emerging as a Hotspot for Startups Focused on Food, Retail, Logistics, and the Supply Chain.
Little Bird Systems engineers feed inventory management systems for the poultry industry using sensor technology and machine learning. They were recently featured by Kim Souza at Talk Business and Politics. A link to the full feature is below. However, the purpose of this post is to showcase how the story of Little Bird embodies some of the core strengths of our regional startup ecosystem. To do this, we’ve selected three excerpts from the feature which highlight how Northwest Arkansas supports startup activity.
”Electrical engineers Byron Western and Edgar Cilio put their heads together in 2012 looking for an application to help poultry companies like Tyson Foods and Simmons Foods do a better job managing their feed inventory once it’s delivered out to grower farms.Kim SouzaTalk Business and Politics
#1 Proximity to Corporate Titans
Home to Three of the World's Most Admired Companies
Little Bird Systems sought to solve a problem that has been plaguing the poultry industry for two decades. This part of their story highlights the immense value that the proximity to leaders in the industry you’re seeking to serve can bring your startup. If there is one thing we have in spades, it’s industry leaders.
Tyson Foods, Walmart, and J.B. Hunt (three Fortune 500 companies) all have their corporate headquarters in Northwest Arkansas. From a startup perspective, this means an online conversation with a key decision maker at one of these corporations can quickly move to an offline, face-to-face meeting at a local coffee shop.
Couple this with the fact that these corporations are always recruiting tech talent and it’s very likely you could build your startup as a side hustle while securing a well-paid, stable gig at one of their HQ’s.
”Western, the CEO of Little Bird, said he was taking a master’s entrepreneur class taught by Dr. Carol Reeves at the University of Arkansas when he had the idea to use sensor technology and machine learning to help address the problem.Kim SouzaTalk Business and Politics
#2 The Startup University
The University of Arkansas Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation has achieved worldwide acclaim
In the second paragraph of the article, we find another key reason Northwest Arkansas is emerging as a hotspot for startups, Dr. Reeves and the Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation!
Led by Dr. Carol Reeves, fondly nicknamed “The Coach” by Fortune magazine, the Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation has achieved worldwide acclaim for its student achievements, including recognition in The New York Times, CNN Money, NPR, Inventor’s Digest, and the NASDAQ. In fact, students led by Dr. Reeves have racked up more startup competition wins since 2009 than any other university in the United States.
Budding entrepreneurs in Northwest Arkansas have the opportunity to earn a graduate certificate in entrepreneurship or an MBA with an entrepreneurship concentration. In addition, the university launched the Brewer Family Entrepreneurship Hub, a co-working space and training center for new and early stage entrepreneurs in the region. The Hub hosts several public events and workshops designed to serve the Northwest Arkansas entrepreneurial community.
Lastly, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention that the University of Arkansas is classified as a “Research 1” university. The Carnegie Foundation classifies the University of Arkansas among only 2.7 percent of universities in America that have the highest level of research activity. This research activity means that entrepreneurs in our region benefit from a steady supply of cutting-edge discoveries and innovation.
”Western said they met with Jeff Amerine and Fayetteville consulting firm Startup Junkie and officials with the University of Arkansas Department of Agriculture, who all played a role in helping identify the right application and then gaining access to the test the technology as a solution.Kim SouzaTalk Business and Politics
#3 Resources and Capital
Very few areas are lucky enough to have a firm that provides no-cost, one-on-one startup consulting; events, workshops, and programs; and access to capital and talent—but that is exactly what Startup Junkie offers startups, like Little Bird, throughout the region. They have the experience of working 1-on-1 with startups that have collectively raised over $229 million and generated over $1 billion in revenue.
Little Bird Systems has $1.1 million in working capital and is about to close another round of $400,000. Part of the funding they raised was from Arkansas Development Finance Authority seed and angel capital network, which is a good example of a unique source of capital that Startup Junkie specializes in helping startups find and secure.
Startup Junkie is currently in the midst of running Fuel, a 16-week, collaborative program that matches growth-stage, supply chain-focused startups with key enterprise partners. In partnership with the Arkansas Economic Development Commission and RevUnit, this accelerator takes zero equity and is free to the participating startups. Fuel’s list of mentors is a perfect example of the region matching startups with key leaders at Fortune 500 companies.
As a bonus, if you are thinking about a startup in the smart homes, smart businesses and/or smart cities space, you can add “Gig Region” to the above list. Cox Communications recently announced that gigabit internet service is now available to 100% of customers in the company’s Northwest Arkansas footprint. Read more HERE.