The Conductor plans to foster a positive entrepreneurial ecosystem in central Arkansas next year through extended services for business owners, new events and a continuation of their free offerings for entrepreneurs.
The Conductor is a public-private partnership between Startup Junkie and the University of Central Arkansas. It was founded in November 2016 and provides free services to entrepreneurs including consulting, access to helpful technology and a network of angel investors.
“There’s a lot of research that startups are more successful when there’s an ecosystem around them, with mentors, a network, etc.,” says CEO Kim Lane. “That’s part of the reason why Silicon Valley is so successful, because of the ecosystem.”
The Conductor provides consulting for three or four entrepreneurs each day, and in their first year, they reached about 4,000 people in the Makerspace.
The Makerspace is a work room where anyone can use a variety of tools to help them further their business. The Makerspace has 3D printers, a laser cutter and many other machines. The space is especially helpful for entrepreneurs seeking to produce a prototype; they can schedule a time to use the space, ask Master Maker Jason Huselton to help them create a sketch and 3D print a prototype on the spot. At least once, an entrepreneur has undergone this exact process and used the prototype to almost immediately get a provisional patent.
Because there is so much foot traffic in the Makerspace, The Conductor plans to start offering extended hours in 2019 so people who work from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. can visit after their primary jobs.
Before entrepreneurs can use the Makerspace, they must undergo a free Maker Training so that they know how to use all the machines. These trainings usually fill up a month in advance, so while The Conductor offered them twice a month in 2018, they plan to do three per month in 2019 to increase access to the Makerspace.
What sets The Conductor apart from similar organizations is its aim to reduce barriers to entry for entrepreneurs, whether they come from privileged circumstances or not. Typically, services like those The Conductor provides are either not free, or they are only free for a certain group, like students. Though The Conductor is affiliated with UCA and often helps students start their own businesses, the services are available for anyone who needs them.
“The work we’ve done at The Conductor gets a lot of attention, especially in the international setting, because it’s all free,” Lane says.
As a result of this attention, in 2019 Lane will serve as a representative for The Conductor at both the Global Entrepreneurship Congress in Bahrain and at an advocacy training workshop sponsored by the Kauffman Foundation.
“It’s really great to go to those places and talk about Conway, Arkansas and talk about the work we’re doing at The Conductor, and it’s nice that The Conductor will have representation at both of those,” Lane says.
Besides sending representatives to conferences, The Conductor will host many events and programs next year, including two Startup Grind events. Startup Grind is an international entrepreneurial community designed to educate, connect and inspire business owners in over 200 cities. One of the events will feature U.S. Congressman French Hill as a speaker, while the other will showcase Justin George, the CEO of Apptegy, a Little Rock-based technology firm that helps schools manage engagement and content across various online platforms.
Additionally, The Conductor will co-host the 2019 Health Sciences Entrepreneurship Bootcamp with the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and Bioventures. The bootcamp is an all-expenses-paid, five-day training program for accepted Arkansas undergraduate students who want to learn more about starting and funding health science entrepreneurial ventures.
Other events and programs are in the works, but The Conductor’s 2019 calendar is not totally complete.
“We are in a great spot geographically in that we’re surrounded by a lot of rural communities, which gives us the opportunity to help rural entrepreneurs,” Lane says. “It helps with poverty, reaching those people changes the mindset [about] entrepreneurship because it can be seen as something for a specific demographic, but it’s for everyone. We have a lot of great stuff coming.”