Amy Hopper recalls her parents setting an example of community activism and entrepreneurship during her childhood years in Norman, Okla. Her mother served as the executive director of Meals on Wheels, taking Amy along with her as she oversaw the vital delivery of meals to the aged and infirm, before taking the reins of Calm Waters, which provided group therapy resources for children affected by a parent’s death, divorce or incarceration. Meanwhile, Amy’s father headed the Oklahoma Restaurant Association, which supports homegrown restaurants throughout that state.
These experiences instilled a passion in her to give back to the community by helping startup businesses find the resources they needed to survive in Wichita and Atlanta before landing in Little Rock, where she recently took over as program manager for the Arkansas Research Alliance’s (ARA) Core Facilities Exchange.
The CFE is intended to serve as an online clearinghouse of research instruments and scientific equipment throughout Arkansas. It will provide a searchable inventory of technical information, descriptions and links to equipment at research institutions and federal laboratories in Arkansas.
“The ARA exists for Arkansas and researchers. We’re building this for them and building it with them,” Hopper said. “The way we’re tackling this project is we’re going out to interview all our researchers and understand what their needs are around equipment for federal grants and to support the work they do.
“It’s tough to get the equipment you need, because procuring it is both expensive and time-intensive,” she added. “They may be able to access the equipment throughout the state so they don’t have the expense of purchasing again and we don’t have the mistake of having two really expensive MRI machines when we can up the capability of one and use the funds for something more valuable.”
The CFE offers a twofold solution to these issues, first by creating a Memo of Understanding (MOU) between the Alliance and its partners at six research institutions, establishing an overarching agreement between the universities to work together and share their valuable assets. The second part of it is building an online, easy-to-use clearinghouse where all the valuable assets in core facilities will be available to search and access. Together, these provide an on-ramp for university researchers to get what they need for their research.
“Amy is highly qualified in a number of areas, so she was the perfect choice for this position because she’s talented at facilitation, engagement, bringing groups together and assembling teams,” ARA CEO Bryan Barnhouse said. “She knows how to organize a project in a coherent way that drives us all to a goal. She’s a proven leader in fields that relate to the ARA. Her background has allowed her to start up and help others begin and be successful starting up companies.”
A graduate of the University of Oklahoma with a degree in finance, Hopper previously was a program officer at Winrock International and managed the I-Fund and the Delta I-Fund, an accelerator for scalable, early-stage entrepreneurs throughout Arkansas and the Delta Regional Authority. She developed program curriculum, instructed entrepreneurs and collaborated with entrepreneurial support organizations throughout the country to recruit entrepreneurs, instructors and mentors into the program.
In 2017, Hopper completed the Lean LaunchPad Educators Program in Boston and has since led lean startup training locally and internationally, in Singapore and Ukraine. Amy was a judge for the 2019 and 2020 Startup of the Year competition and served on the South by Southwest PITCH Advisory board, while also serving as the 2020 Global Entrepreneurship Week community organizer for Little Rock.
“This is a big switch from my past jobs, in that I’m no longer working only with entrepreneurs,” said Hopper. “I’ve gone a little bit upstream, working with innovators at the university level. Some of those researchers eventually do create spinoff companies and move into the entrepreneurial ecosystem, so I do think I have great connections for them to grow. This would be more supporting research from the researcher level and less from the startup company level.
“I’ve always had a love for homegrown businesses and supporting them, and I’ve gone back to how I grew up. I love it here, there’s so many beautiful places to live, so many outdoor activities and ways to connect with people. People genuinely care about your wellbeing here and that makes all the difference.”