The Spark! accelerator program from The Venture Center and Little Rock Regional Chamber helps boost Arkansas startups and small businesses with a unique program that provides mentorship, subject matter expertise and face-to-face time to business leaders.
It was launched in 2019, and this year, will feature two sessions — a spring cohort, currently underway, and a fall cohort. Application criteria and other information for the fall run are available at VentureCenter.co. Application deadline is Sept. 1.
The small businesses represented in the spring cohort represent a wide array of industries from health care and retail to publishing and e-commerce.
The 2022 Spring Spark! Cohort
Bella’s Kitchen & Wellness
Bella’s Kitchen and Wellness prepares, sources and delivers everyday meals based on whole food, plant-forward diets. Designed to serve those with sensitivities and allergies, Bella’s carefully lists ingredients and makes meals available for special diets such as gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan or vegetarian.
“After I needed to start feeding my daughter Bella solids, I could not find any prepared, baby-led feeding options,” Hurst said. “As a mom, I know how hard it is to have a home-cooked meal ready after a long day. So, that’s how Bella’s Kitchen and Wellness started.”
Hurst is a certified health coach by the Institute of Integrative Nutrition. With more than 10 years of experience, she holds a marketing degree from the University of Central Arkansas and an entrepreneurship degree from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.
Talbert Lawn Services
Talbert Lawn Services provides superior landscaping and groundskeeping services in Central Arkansas. It specializes in second-chance employment opportunities for people with felony background records.
Adams-Talbert founded Talbert Lawn Services because her spouse’s 20-year-old felony record haunted the family, preventing him from finding employment. Starting in 2015 with a single push mower and one weed-eater, the firm persevered and grew, Now, it is celebrating eight years in business by scaling up and creating more jobs, especially for those previously convicted or incarcerated looking to rebuild.
Aspiring Medical Training Institute
Aspiring Medical Training Institute offers allied health training courses to help meet the growing need for health care workers in Arkansas. Providing health care training for CNAs, phlebotomy technicians and EKG technicians, Ragland takes pride in promoting top students into the community who will positively impact patients’ care and lives.
“As an advanced practice registered nurse (APN), I’ve seen firsthand burnout in health care partly because of the lack of supporting staff,” she said. “As my grandmothers, family members and others are living much longer, it’s important to me that caring, knowledgeable and hard-working individuals care for my loved ones and others when the time comes.”
URBANE Magazine is a Central Arkansas, African American lifestyle publication that honors Arkansas’ Black culture and identity. Founder and Editor-In-Chief Dianna Donahue is a Little Rock native who dreams of creating a platform that supports and empowers Black Arkansans.
Motivated to help preserve the integrity of and enrich Black culture in Arkansas, she officially established URBANE Magazine on the first day of Black History Month, Feb. 1, 2015. The magazine uses stories and imagery in print and digital platforms to showcase Black culture in Arkansas and celebrate unsung heroes and leaders who shaped it.
Donahue attended the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, where she studied education with an emphasis in English. She received her bachelor’s degree in 2014 and her master’s degree in 2020.
“I started my business because Arkansas’ professional printed media industry was void of a constant and positive visual representation of Black people,” Donahue said.
Donahue’s ambition is to expand URBANE Magazine’s media footprint throughout Arkansas and beyond.
Nicole Snow and Crystal Hanner
Enova pioneered its On-the-Go Gel Manicure Kit that’s getting raving reviews from Allure, POPSUGAR and Insider Beauty. Enova customers can use the spill-proof, one-step, gel manicure kits anywhere and everywhere, and gain the confidence boost they desire without the hefty price tag of a salon visit or wasted time of failed self-manicures.
Founders Nicole Snow and Crystal Hanner created the manicure kits and their business because nail polish hasn’t changed since the 1920s — it’s messy, chips easily and takes forever to dry.
“We wanted to make life easier for women on the go,” they said. So, they created a manicure system designed for this decade.
Med Unlimited builds mobile clinics, provides PPE and medical supplies and builds mobile charging stations.
Aikens founded Med Unlimited in 2016 after more than 20 years in the construction industry. While operating his food truck dealership during the pandemic, he noticed the similarity in the design of food trucks and mobile clinics. To aid in distributing vaccines, Med Unlimited began designing and building mobile clinics.
“I started my business because I think I can be a real difference-maker in the medical industry,” Aikens said.
Calm+Confidence places honeybee hives and native pollinator habitats throughout Arkansas to engage all communities in biodiversity preservation. Through school collaborations and apprenticing opportunities, the company mentors the next generation of beekeepers to maintain hives, sell bee-based goods and educate the public on the importance of pollinators.
A former teacher, Anderson, is eager to keep educating.
“Calm+Confidence allows me to continue to work in the area of education but be outside of the classroom,” she said. “I can engage and train ages from 3 to 80 and build a welcoming, diverse community of beekeepers.”
Calm+Confidence has placed honeybee hives in private yards, community gardens, schools and other organizations in Central Arkansas. Along with placing the hives, the business maintains the health of the colonies and trains “hive hosts” to manage their hives. Participants receive half of the honey harvested from their property, and Calm + Confidence sells half to the public as “Neighborhood Honey.”
Other local products are also sold containing the beeswax from the hives.
WoofCat is an e-commerce pet-treat company specializing in handcrafted, organic, limited-ingredient dog and cat treats.
Winstead founded Woofcat because she believed the strays she rescued deserved healthier treats than the commercial treats available.
“The treats were a hit with every dog I had rescued,” she said. “So, I began selling my treats at farmers’ markets and festivals.”
Since then, her business has grown into a thriving e-commerce business with a mission. She has become an advocate for more resources for minority pet owners in low-income communities and more presence for pet businesses of color within the pet industry.
“I created a WoofCat slogan, ‘We all have pets in common,’ to bring attention to the need for equality through a mutual love of animals,” she said.
Dr. Kristy Carter
Kristy Carter Consults
Kristy Carter Consults provides research, marketing and technical assistance services to community leaders by helping them leverage existing resources to bolster community and economic development efforts in marginalized communities.
Carter is a researcher, social scientist and inclusive ecosystem builder who has dedicated her life to helping leaders of marginalized and economically distressed communities. Carter is best known for her research from “Women of Color Business Owners and Entrepreneurs,” a study she conducted for the Women’s Foundation of Arkansas.
Carter is a graduate of the Ph.D. program in Change Leadership for Equity and Inclusion at UCA.