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A Walton Family Foundation gift of $2 million will help establish a Northwest Arkansas office for a global nonprofit that supports "high-impact" entrepreneurs.

The Bentonville foundation, led by the children and grandchildren of Walmart founders Sam and Helen Walton, said in a news release Monday that Endeavor will draw on the engagement and backing of local business leaders to support entrepreneurs and companies that are past the initial startup phase and demonstrate potential for rapid expansion and scale.

"Entrepreneurship helped build Northwest Arkansas and continues to transform it today," Tom Walton, chairman of the foundation's Home Region Committee, said in the release. "Endeavor will build on that legacy by providing the most promising startups in the region opportunities to scale up, contributing to our efforts to grow local businesses and attract new industries."

Based in New York, Endeavor also has regional offices in Atlanta, Detroit, Louisville, Miami and Puerto Rico. It supports 1,825 entrepreneurs leading 1,141 companies in 33 markets worldwide, according to its website. The 21-year-old nonprofit's aim, according to the release, is "to facilitate long-term economic growth by selecting, mentoring and accelerating the best high-impact entrepreneurs around the world."

Having Endeavor in Northwest Arkansas is "a very important piece of the puzzle" for area entrepreneurs, said Mervin Jebaraj, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. "Anything we can do as a community to help people start new companies and help those small, new companies become large companies is beneficial to Northwest Arkansas."

The region already has some resources available, such as the university's Brewer Family Entrepreneurship Hub, Startup Junkie in Fayetteville and Grit Studios in Bentonville. But Jebaraj said Endeavor will "bring some global expertise to Northwest Arkansas and the entrepreneurship field."

Previous growth in Northwest Arkansas came from its Fortune 500 companies and their supplier base, Jebaraj said. But now those companies provide more of a stable base for employment than a catalyst for further growth, he said. For that, another Fortune 500 or Fortune 1,000 company is needed, he said.

"If we want high levels of employment that we have seen in past years, we need to see that from new businesses that are growing," Jebaraj said. "You're going to want these companies that aren't going to stop with 10, 20, 25 or 50 employees, but [instead] grow to 100, 200, 500 or 1,000 employees."

In each market it enters, Endeavor requires the support of five to 10 local business leaders to fund local operations, form a board of directors and build a mentoring network.

Endeavor Northwest Arkansas already has a board of directors in place. Elise Mitchell, founder and chairman of Mitchell Communications, is the board's chairman. The other members are Carl George, co-chief executive and co-president of George's Inc.; Ashley Hubka, senior vice president of corporate strategy and corporate development at Walmart Inc.; Todd Simmons, chief executive officer of Simmons Foods; and Clete Brewer, managing partner at New Road Capital Partners.

Mitchell said in the news release that entrepreneurs in smaller markets face significant obstacles.

"Endeavor NWA will allow us to provide fast-scaling entrepreneurs with resources that can further accelerate their growth and enable them to have an even greater impact on the region," she said.

The Northwest Arkansas office will be led by Canem Arkan, a former managing director at Axonic Capital who spent most of her career at Goldman Sachs.

Business on 03/12/2019

Print Headline: $2M gift supports business startups

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