I really shouldn’t call Arkansas an entrepreneurial desert – though it did get you to read this.
Arkansas is, after all, the home of Walmart, arguably the world’s most successful family business in the history of mankind. And, it is home to 18 publicly traded companies, in a state with only two million souls.
Arkansas is also a state with a long and storied entrepreneurial history, that seems to have forgotten what it is that entrepreneurs actually need to succeed. Namely: what do neophyte entrepreneurs actually need to know in order to run a going concern?
What we do have is a burgeoning and growing ecosystem, giving a great deal of lip service to supporting entrepreneurs: new technology centers, innovation hubs, and startup funds are announced weekly. For every new startup pitch competition created, a dozen other pitch competitions already exist. Enough, already.
We have created a wobbly ecosystem designed to launch a thousand Powerpoint decks, and game gone-in-sixty-second contests for bragging rights and cash; a startup food chain, with lots of empty calories, but with little to no nutritional value.
And as a result – we are failing to launch healthy and sustainable new companies.
How do we fix this?
Well, we don’t need another startup fund. And we sure as hell don’t need another pitch competition.
We need businesses, and business people, who know how to keep enterprises between the ditches, making profits, paying salaries, giving back to their communities, and ultimately, fulfilling dreams.
People willing to sweat, and teach, the details of what businesses actually do.
Details like: Should my business be a C Corporation, an S Corporation, or an LLC? Should I incorporate as a native corporation, or as a foreign corporation? Should I operate on an accrual basis, or a cash basis? Will we be subject to state sales taxes? Are we charging (at all / enough) for our services in order to cover our run rate? What are the statutory reporting requirements for my type of business?
Details as seemingly obvious as: How do I close a sale?
These details aren’t simply questions to be answered after you “growth hack” an audience, or announce your break-out app at South By. They are foundational issues vital to the success of any – and every – Business with a capital B. The Arkansas Venture Center does a great job of dealing with such issues, through their Pre-Flight course, and through their network of mentors and business advisors.
If you find yourself in a “startup” group, and you’re the only one in the group who has ever created a business charter or filed a 941 form, congratulations – you’re the de facto subject matter expert.
And it’s well past time that those of us who have this knowledge continue to allow the narrative of the emerging Arkansas startup ecosystem to be controlled by entities interested solely in selling shovels to the miners, rather than teaching the basics of actually digging for gold.
There are solid business mentors around. And, there are plenty of people – accountants, lawyers, educators, and, dare I say it, “lifestyle” business owners – that actually know how to take in more money than you spend.
Seek them out. Use them. Invite them into the startup conversation.
For, if you want to successfully cross the entrepreneurial desert, you’ll need guides who have been there before, crossed it, and lived to tell the tale.