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story.lead_photo.caption Grace Rains was named the new executive director for the Central Arkansas Angel Network, or CAAN, which is a group of angel investors based in Arkansas. The mission of the group is to educate investors to perpetuate investment and spur the economy.

Entrepreneurship has been a theme throughout Grace Rains’ life. She met her husband at an entrepreneurship and innovation class, she was raised in a family that was supported by a small business, and she worked for a small-business marketing firm as one of her first jobs.

Rains serves as the director of operations for The Conductor in Conway, an entrepreneur support organization that provides no-cost resources to small-business owners, start-ups and inventors to help them grow or start their endeavors. In a partnership with The Conductor and the Central Arkansas Angel Network, or CAAN, Rains took on an additional role in July as the new executive director for CAAN.

“I felt a connection to small business and that world, and to supporting small-business owners,” Rains said. “I feel like moving into venture capital, and the Angel Network was a good move for The Conductor because CAAN is really mission critical to the work that we do. … For us to promote investment and capital for Arkansas entrepreneurs feeds back into our mission to empower entrepreneurs, innovators and thinkers.”

CAAN is a group of angel investors based out of Arkansas, and the mission of the group is to educate investors to perpetuate investment and to spur the economy. Typically, angel investors provide capital for startup businesses when other investors won’t.

“We know that for every investment made, there is an average of 3.8 jobs that generate from that investment,” Rains said. “So it is one part economic empowerment and one part educating investors to perpetuate investment.”

Essentially, CAAN accepts applications from start-up companies looking for capital and applying for investments. Members of CAAN review the applications and choose which companies are invited to meet with the organization and pitch their ideas and businesses. Then the angel investors choose whether they want to make individual investments or syndicated investments, which allow multiple investors. Rains said it is a way for CAAN to take start-up companies that need capital in the Arkansas area and connect them with angel investors willing to make investments in start-up companies.

Rains replaces Jeff Stinson, a former director for CAAN, which was established in 2019. Rains said the Central Arkansas Angel Network is a relatively new angel network, so The Conductor partnered with CAAN, and that partnership allowed Rains to be named its new executive director.

Rains said that when the CAAN Board put out a request for proposal for the director position, The Conductor decided to take a team-based approach, with her serving as executive director for CAAN.

“We provide one-on-one consultations, workshops and director resources on anything from human resources to managing capital to pitching your business,” Rains said. “During the coronavirus, it has been a lot of COVID-19 support and information on [personal-protective-equipment] loans.

“We also provide a lot of events and programming on inspiring entrepreneurship, so we are bringing in entrepreneurs to talk about their journey and why they started, or even business leaders to talk about how they got where they are.”

Alese Stroud, James Hendren, Bryan Hosto, Jeff Amerine and Gary Jones are the founding board members for the Central Arkansas Angel Network. Stroud said they chose Rains to fill the executive-director role after an extensive statewide search. Stroud said they interviewed a number of highly qualified candidates, but “Grace’s presentation to our board demonstrated a solid vision for the future of the organization in clear alignment with our own goals.”

“The executive director of an angel network needs to connect well with early-stage companies seeking investment and the angel-investor community, as well as the entrepreneur support organizations in the region,” Stroud said. “Grace’s prior experience in the entrepreneurial ecosystem, her regional portfolio of connections and her [Master of Business Administration degree] prepare her well to serve in this capacity.”

Stroud said accredited investors who want to know more about membership are invited to visit centralarkansasangelnetwork.org. She said the website also provides a link for companies who are seeking investors to apply to present their proposals.

“One of my goals, as well as the goal of the organization as a whole, is to recruit a diverse group of investors who want to invest in a diverse group of companies,” Rains said. “That is everything from gender diversity, age diversity and ethnicity. We want to make sure we have a variety of companies that we are investing in, but also that our investors reflect the companies we are investing in so that we have different perspectives from an investment standpoint. But [we also need to perpetuate] investment in Arkansas, across all ages, genders and ethnicities, so we are perpetuating that economic engine here in Arkansas.”

Rains said that when the opportunity arose to join The Conductor team, it made a lot of sense. She said she gets to continue to work with entrepreneurs with a health care focus, which is her background.

“We run a health entrepreneurship boot camp, and we work closely with Conway Regional, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and Arkansas Children’s,” Rains said. “So I still get to dabble in those worlds while getting to support entrepreneurs.”

Rains currently serves on the Conway Public School Foundation Board, as well as the board for Bethlehem House in Conway.

“I think we have the opportunity with The Conductor and CAAN to support entrepreneurs, of course, but also to support continued investment in Arkansas and to educate investors on opportunities with Arkansas-based companies and to diversify their portfolios,” Rains said.

Rains and her husband, Jeff, live in Conway and have two dogs, Scout and Ted.

Staff writer Sam Pierce can be reached at (501) 244-4314 or spierce@arkansasonline.com.

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