In 2015, IBERIABANK began discussions with the AR Regional Innovation Hub to partner in Arkansas and help spur entrepreneurship and economic development throughout Central Arkansas and the rest of the state. Discussions turned to venture capital investment and at that time, IBERIABANK made a decision to become a major in the I-Fund.
The I-Fund is a $1M seed stage investment fund available to early-stage Arkansas entrepreneurs that complete the Delta I-Fund proof-of-concept program. The mission of the I-Fund is to bolster the Delta I-Fund’s lean startup training and mentorship with access to capital, which is difficult to come by as an early-stage entrepreneur. Long-term, these investments will provide top-tier Delta I-Fund entrepreneurs with the ability to scale, create jobs and spur economic development throughout the state.
Innovators throughout the state, including those from low-to-moderate income areas, females and minorities have the opportunity to access capital that otherwise would not be available. During the 12-week Delta I-Fund program, entrepreneurial teams are tasked with learning as much as possible about their potential customers rather than pitching or selling their idea/product. In fact, they complete 60 customer interviews over the course of the program. Sometimes they learn that there is no real need for their product, and they move on to pursue something of higher value. More often than not, teams alter their business model to better fit their customers’ needs. This process saves the team (and future investors) time and money.
Between 2010-2016, Arkansas pulled in only 0.05% of the available venture capital in all of the U.S. (source: National Venture Capital Association). According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the majority of job growth has shifted from existing enterprises to new businesses. It is important that we invest in our own innovative people, as we run a risk of losing them to other states.
Since its inception, the I-Fund has invested in over seven businesses. These businesses have onboarded their mentors as official team members and employees, pivoted to new product design due to customer discovery and been accepted into Winrock’s Health InnovatAR health care accelerator. Also, other businesses have taken $25,000-50,000 investments from I-Fund to beta test the products and contribute to the employment and the economic advancement of the state of Arkansas. Also, many of these companies continue to compete in business plan competitions and apply for more capital as they continue to grow their business.
IBERIABANK is extremely excited to continue our involvement with the I-Fund and we look forward to the introduction of new, innovative companies with bright futures.