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“The Selection Day event allowed representatives from 22 start-ups to pitch their ideas to more than 150 business executives, Northwest Arkansas leaders, and University of Arkansas faculty members. Ten selected startups will be matched with mentors who will help them over the next six months refining their business models and defining and pursuing opportunities for collaboration with companies like J.B. Hunt Transport Services, Tyson Foods and Walmart.”

Matt WallerDean at University of Arkansas - Sam M. Walton College of Business

The entrepreneurial ecosystem in Northwest Arkansas began experiencing the full impact of one of its newest partners last week when Plug and Play held its first event in the state to connect global supply chain innovators with area industry leaders. This was a huge occasion for startups looking for support. What struck me, however, was just how much of an impact the event figures to have on the bigger, more established companies in our region – and on the region as a whole.

Plug and Play Tech Center, a venture capital firm and business accelerator based in Sunnyvale, California, has corporate partnerships around the world in a variety of industry verticals. It has offices in Europe, Asia, North and South America, as well as its headquarters in Silicon Valley. Home base for its supply chain and logistics vertical opened this summer in Northwest Arkansas.

The plan is simple: bring in leaders of startups that are innovating in supply chain and logistics and connect them with our region’s deep network of industry leaders, both in the business and academic communities.

The Selection Day event allowed representatives from 22 start-ups to pitch their ideas to more than 150 business executives, Northwest Arkansas leaders, and University of Arkansas faculty members. Ten selected startups will be matched with mentors who will help them over the next six months refining their business models and defining and pursuing opportunities for collaboration with companies like J.B. Hunt Transport Services, Tyson Foods and Walmart.

The benefits to the region’s startup community are obvious. The event drew companies from California, Washington, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and New York, as well as China, Germany, Holland, Sweden, Finland, Croatia and Switzerland. In addition to the impact they will have while taking part in the program, many of these innovative companies will maintain a long-term presence here and some will relocate to Northwest Arkansas.

The plan is simple: bring in leaders of startups that are innovating in supply chain and logistics and connect them with our region’s deep network of industry leaders, both in the business and academic communities.

The Selection Day event last week allowed representatives from 22 start-ups to pitch their ideas to more than 150 business executives, Northwest Arkansas leaders, and University of Arkansas faculty members. Ten selected startups will be matched with mentors who will help them over the next six months refining their business models and defining and pursuing opportunities for collaboration with companies like J.B. Hunt Transport Services, Tyson Foods and Walmart.

The benefits to the region’s startup community are obvious. The event drew companies from California, Washington, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and New York, as well as China, Germany, Holland, Sweden, Finland, Croatia and Switzerland. In addition to the impact they will have while taking part in the program, many of these innovative companies will maintain a long-term presence here and some will relocate to Northwest Arkansas.

I attended the morning pitch sessions and participated in a breakout session where we went into more detail with some of the leaders of the startups. The ideas they are developing, and in some cases already are implementing, truly will change the way products move to the market, and not just by tweaking existing methods and technologies. Among the innovations they presented: fully autonomous robots that can carry more than 1,700 pounds; a machine-learning platform that promotes truck driver safety; wearable “exoskeleton” robotics that promote health and safety for workers who lift and move heavy objects; real-time global cargo monitoring services; and technology that safely provides wireless power over long distances.

After the event, I spoke with several leaders of our Fortune 500 community and asked two questions in an attempt to understand the degree of innovation we saw from the presenters. One, did you see innovations that you’d previously never heard about? Two, if so, could you envision implementing any of those ideas in your company in the near future?

Everyone I asked said yes to both questions. This told me that these young companies and our entrepreneurial ecosystem aren’t the only ones who will benefit from the Plug and Play partnership. The Fortune 500 companies also stand to benefit from early access to new technologies that inevitably will lead to competitive advantages for their businesses.

When the corporate businesses in Arkansas gain competitive advantages, they can grow revenue, market share and profitability. That’s not just good for them, it’s good for everyone in the state because a rising tide lifts all boats. Employees win. Shareholders win. Taxpayers win.

Several decades ago, homegrown innovators like Sam Walton, J.B. and Johnelle Hunt, and John Tyson changed the course Northwest Arkansas’ history with business models that disrupted their respective industries and made the area arguably the world’s hotspot for innovation in supply chain management. These companies continue to innovate internally, and their legacies will expand exponentially as they embrace and assist the mavericks like we met at the Plug and Play event.

Everyone I asked said yes to both questions. This told me that these young companies and our entrepreneurial ecosystem aren’t the only ones who will benefit from the Plug and Play partnership. The Fortune 500 companies also stand to benefit from early access to new technologies that inevitably will lead to competitive advantages for their businesses.

When the corporate businesses in Arkansas gain competitive advantages, they can grow revenue, market share and profitability. That’s not just good for them, it’s good for everyone in the state because a rising tide lifts all boats. Employees win. Shareholders win. Taxpayers win.

Several decades ago, homegrown innovators like Sam Walton, J.B. and Johnelle Hunt, and John Tyson changed the course Northwest Arkansas’ history with business models that disrupted their respective industries and made the area arguably the world’s hotspot for innovation in supply chain management. These companies continue to innovate internally, and their legacies will expand exponentially as they embrace and assist the mavericks like we met at the Plug and Play event.