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Fostering a Culture of Entrepreneurship in Northwest Arkansas

November 5, 2019
I feel lucky to work with people brimming with tremendous ideas to help the region prosper.

I view entrepreneurship as a mindset. Entrepreneurship doesn’t necessarily mean everyone is going to start his or her own business. The spirit of entrepreneurship entails having a problem-solving mindset, being prepared to try new things, starting and failing and learning through experience.

When you develop entrepreneurial talent, these people can be a resource anywhere – from large corporations to small businesses and government, to being their own business owners. Entrepreneurs turn ideas into reality. Entrepreneurs bring innovative solutions to market and address social and community challenges. They start new businesses and grow small companies into big ones.

I am an entrepreneurial ecosystem builder. I am originally from Singapore and worked for the Singapore Government for more than a decade, developing policies and funding principles to advance research, innovation and enterpreneurial ecosystems. I came to Northwest Arkansas when my husband took a job at the University of Arkansas.

Yee-Lin Lai is a program officer supporting entrepreneurial development in Northwest Arkansas.

My mantra in life is, ‘Be willing to be a little uncomfortable.’ I had never set foot in Northwest Arkansas and was uncertain about my employment prospects. But I believe being outside of my comfort zone allows me to learn and grow.

The first year was tough. Then, I connected with Dean Matt Waller at the Walton College of Business. He asked me help to conduct an analysis of the entrepreneurial ecosystem.

I got to know more about what was happening in the region and began mapping out the gaps that existed in the entrepreneurial landscape. I was surprised – and privileged – to meet a significant community of entrepreneurs.

My work allows me to meet a lot of game-changing people. They have lofty visions and a desire to give back.

When I heard about this job at the Walton Family Foundation – as a program officer supporting entrepreneurial development – it seemed like the natural next step. Instead of working in government, I am using philanthropic resources to advance research, innovation and entrepreneurship.

Having already identified the barriers encountered by local entrepreneurs, I am able to leverage the foundation’s resources to help plug these gaps and lift up the Northwest Arkansas entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Northwest Arkansas is no stranger to entrepreneurship. It is rooted in a legacy of entrepreneurial spirit.

To ensure the region’s long-term viability, not only must we build on these strengths and grow existing businesses, we need to diversify our economy by developing and attracting new enterprises, big and small. Startups can be more dynamic than big corporations. They add vibrancy, create jobs and foster innovation. They drive the continued growth of our economy.

My work allows me to meet a lot of game-changing people. They have lofty visions and a desire to give back. There are a lot of successful people brimming with tremendous ideas on how we can make this a better place for startups. That’s really exciting to me.

In the Field is a series featuring Walton Family Foundation staff whose commitment and passion for their work is helping create access to opportunity for people and communities.
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