With The ARK Challenge, Northwest Arkansas Gets An Incubator Of Its Own

It seems like there are tech accelerators and incubators popping up all over the place, spreading from major tech hubs like San Francisco and New York throughout the U.S. and internationally. But now they’re also appearing outside of major metro areas. Take The ARK Challenge, for instance, an accelerator program that’s just getting started in Northwest Arkansas.

The ARK Challenge is looking to recruit 15 startups, who will get all the same things you can expect from accelerators elsewhere, including funding, coworking space and access to mentors. All chosen to participate will receive $18,000 in funding in exchange for 6 percent of equity, and will have the opportunity to work out of the Iceberg CoWorking Space in Fayetteville, Ark.

They’ll also receive design and developer support, as well as help promoting their ideas throughout the 14-week program. As for the mentors, ARK is touting more than 60 local and national advisers that will be available to participants. At the end of the program, two startups will be chosen to receive up to $150,000 in additional funding.

So why participate in an accelerator in Northwest Arkansas? The ARK program is looking for early-stage startups that are heavily focused on locally supported industries, such as retail, transportation, and food processing. Arkansas has a bunch of big companies nearby, like Walmart, J.B. Hunt, and Tyson Foods, which means a fair amount of billionaires per capita.

But that hasn’t trickled down into a whole lot of technical innovation, which is something that ARK hopes to change. To that end, it’s hoping to bring in entrepreneurs not just from Arkansas, but from anywhere around the world to participate in its startup bootcamp.

The initiative is sponsored by Winrock International, a non-profit focused on rural development, in partnership with University of Arkansas at Fayetteville and the NorthWest Arkansas Community College.

The program has received $2.1 million in funding from three federal agencies: Economic Development Administration (EDA), the Small Business Administration (SBA), and Employment and Training Administration (ETA). It’s also received cash from Winrock International, Gravity Ventures, and Fund for Arkansas’ Future.

The ARK Challenge will officially kick off on August 6th and go through to early November, with participants announced sometime next month. But if you want to participate, you better get your application in soon — the deadline for applicants is this Sunday, June 17.