On a warm evening along Fayetteville’s City Square this past September, amidst the live music, food trucks and craft beer vendors serving pints by the name of Slaughter Pen IPA and Ozark Lager, something else was brewing.
Looking around—from young kids riding on their parents’ shoulders to university students mingling with startups forged in the Heartland—the night captured the community, creativity and entrepreneurship that has been building to an impressive crescendo in Northwest Arkansas.
“It's a big birthday party,” says organizer Caleb Talley of the Startup Crawl, now in its third year. “Not for me,” he jokes, “but for the entrepreneurial community ... This is a celebration of innovation, innovators and the incredible support systems we have in place.”
Through our work with the Startup Junkie Foundation (the Crawl’s parent organization), the Walton Family Foundation is continuing its commitment to support and promote a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem in the region.
Beyond the major global companies that originally put Northwest Arkansas on the map, local innovators are bringing fresh ideas to life, driving their own business growth and further diversifying the region’s economy.
The most recent Startup Crawl welcomed several thousand attendees at a dozen stops around Fayetteville’s square, from early-stage student booths at the University of Arkansas’ Brewer Family Entrepreneurship Hub to established businesses in the region, like compliance software maker Zenwork.
The event was created to lend a celebratory vibe to the hard work of innovation, with many of the crawl’s stops showcasing beer from local craft breweries, food trucks and local music acts, alongside entrepreneurs and their startups.
“We get energized learning from the startups who are doing new things,” says Zenwork's Edward Pratt, who has mentored local entrepreneurs.
Northwest Arkansas, he says, is a great area for incubating talent.
“It’s small enough to be self-contained, but big enough to contain a lot of different companies and people who have great ideas and great workmanship.”
Other startups participating were working to gain exposure for impressive new ideas. Carter Malloy of AcreTrader, a farmland investing platform, was a former equity trader in San Francisco.
“I came here because there's a great entrepreneurial legal system, and there's just great people and great talent. This is where I want to live and raise a family. I'll be here forever.”
Fayetteville is also home to the nearly 30,000 students at the nearby University of Arkansas campus, each in various stages of figuring out how—and where—to put down roots and begin a career.
Events like the Startup Crawl are helping to shift the perception of students like Lara Wyatt, who was exhibiting with the United Nations’ social entrepreneurship group Enactus.
“This is such a cool opportunity to be actually speaking to people in the community that normally we wouldn't have access to,” she says.
“I'm from South Carolina, and I would love to stay in this area. So many things are always happening here, whether that be for young students or all the way up to people working at the corporate level.”
As Northwest Arkansas continues to evolve into a vibrant hub for startups, the foundation remains dedicated to helping cultivate a resource-rich environment for innovators of all stripes that can attract new talent and improve quality of life for all our neighbors.