One thing we know for sure about working with entrepreneurs — building a business takes heart. The pull towards creating something new comes deep from within and fuels the fire to keep going when times get tough, as they inevitably do. That’s why Spark!, The Venture Center’s local small business pre-accelerator program produced in partnership with the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce, is such a needed resource.
Through The Venture Center’s Spark! pre-accelerator, eight local entrepreneurs work together to build their sales and marketing skills and support one another through the challenges and opportunities of their entrepreneurial journeys. This marks the program’s third year, and the 2021 cohort boasts a broad range of businesses.
Meet the Founders of the 2021 Spark! Cohort
Ayana Baraka, Edamame Films
Edamame Films produces films by and about disenfranchised communities.
Ayana Baraka shared that she became an entrepreneur because it was necessary. As a cinematographer, Baraka knew that learning the business was critical to making a career out of her passion for filmmaking. Through her work, Baraka spotlights underrepresented artists and gives voice to the disenfranchised.
Baraka said, “People of color directed only one in 10 films between 2011 and 2017, and less than 20 percent were written by women.” Baraka is changing inequitable systems of her industry, one project at a time. She’s breaking down barriers to working in film by producing work written by and written about women, BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) and disenfranchised communities while also honing in on partnerships with women of color.
Miya Blackmon, Little Rock Lightning
The Little Rock Lightning is a professional basketball team that focuses on providing a professional basketball experience to the Little Rock community, fans and business partners.
Miya Blackmon and her husband, Jushun, wanted to make a positive difference in Little Rock, the city they love. The Little Rock Lightning engages talented basketball players and coaches and was born from the Blackmons’ desire to use their talents to foster community and build leaders, on and off the court.
The Lightning creates jobs, produces family-friendly activities and fosters business development in Little Rock. The team has completed its first year, and now its biggest challenge is growing brand awareness. Armed with a mission to do good and a spirit of grit, it will use Spark! as a tool to achieve their goal of sustaining a professional basketball team in Little Rock.
Whitney Gray, Whit’s End
Whit’s End is a professional KonMari certified organization service.
Whitney Gray was struggling as a new mom and with organization. When she was diagnosed with ADHD, she realized that she needed different tools to operate efficiently. When Gray discovered the KonMari Method, a new healthier world opened to her. Through the KonMari Method, Gray teaches others how to access a path to wellness through organization and tidying. Gray is passionate about her work because she recognizes that most people become overwhelmed by disorder and clutter at some point in their lives, which prevents people from living their best lives. With compassion and empathy, she leads people to a life that sparks joy.
Benjamin Harrison, FareMarket
FareMarket works with Arkansas farmers and producers to bring your favorite farmers’ market items to your door with same-day delivery available on all orders.
In 2019, Benjamin Harrison walked into The Venture Center hoping for advice on a new website idea but walked out with a startup support network. After five years of farming and serving as a food justice advocate, Harrison wanted to explore ways to bring new food businesses to low resource communities, and he knew he had to build it. His e-grocery startup partnered with the urban farming consumer co-op to offer high quality, affordable food. Harrison hopes he is creating a more democratic food system.
Moesha Howard, Infidimensional Skin
Infidimensional Skin creates skin care paths for clients to obtain the beautiful skin they deserve, focusing on beauty and wellness through waxing, skincare and relaxation.
Meosha Howard always knew she wanted to work for herself, even at 15 years old, when she got her first job. She describes herself as self-reliant and says this trait motivates her every day. It’s what pushes her to succeed and makes her feel connected to herself. Through her spa, she helps her clients feel good about themselves and properly care for their skin. Howard hopes to grow Infidimensional Skin Spa and open locations across Arkansas. “I can barely sleep at night envisioning my business franchising… I would also love to have a skincare and accessory brand in the future,” Howard shared.
Tammy Iosbaker, The Frame Maker
The Frame Maker is a custom framing business that helps customers create beautiful and long-lasting art, memories and family heirlooms by using quality conservation materials.
For more than 30 years, Tammy Iosbaker has taken great joy in serving as a professional custom framer. Creating beautiful pieces for people to cherish is her passion, and Iosbaker and her husband decided to venture out to open a business putting her passion to work. Properly framing and displaying artwork, sentimental or collectable memorabilia, documents and other items requires being informed not only on the aesthetic potential of a piece but also about conservation methods of framing irreplaceable items with sentimental and monetary value. Iosbaker hopes to grow her business to support her family and also to support her local community.
Kissa Kimble, Elite Recruiting
Elite Recruiting matches Class A CDL Drivers with career tractor-trailer opportunities.
Before Elite Recruiting, Kissa Kimble was a mother of two, spending 14 hours a day working which left little time for herself or her family. Then, Elite Recruiting presented itself. The hope of spending more time with her family while securing a better financial future propelled Kimble to take the leap into entrepreneurship, and today Kimble works to solve today’s CDL driver shortage. Kimble hopes to continue growing Elite Recruiting and to increase efficiency in all areas of her business.
Soroya Tucker, VLS Waste Solutions
VLS Waste Solutions is a valet trash service provider devoted to a seamless process that benefits our clients and environment.
Soroya Tucker has goals. As an entrepreneur, she’s looking to identify the gaps in the community’s services and resources, while also making a positive impact on the younger generation. Through her business, Tucker serves her customers with valet trash services for those outside the city limits and in apartments and to serve other areas that need waste management services for beautification. Tucker is proud to be part of a company bringing jobs to Arkansas and making it a better place to live.
Support for the Spark! cohort
With support from the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center, Arvest and Arkansas Money and Politics, The Venture Center’s 2021 Spark! Cohort has access to the tools and connections it needs to grow these businesses. Over the course of the fall program, the cohort met weekly to discuss goals and strategies and to practice elevator pitches in hopes of winning the prize pool at November 10’s VC Pitch ‘N Pint event. When entrepreneurs combine heart and drive with tools and resources, success is sure to follow. And these eight Spark! entrepreneurs are fully equipped.
About The Venture Center
The Venture Center is a globally recognized Arkansas based Entrepreneurial Support Organization (ESO) that helps entrepreneurs turn their start-ups into viable, high-growth businesses. By leveraging the expertise of a world-class team of mentors, intensive programming, and introductions to the investor community, The Venture Center serves as an engine for economic growth in Arkansas and beyond. Learn more at www.venturecenter.co.