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Ideas project seeking creators

by Special to The Commercial | May 13, 2022 at 2:56 a.m.
A woman works at her sewing machine in this June 18, 2020 file photo. (AP/Alberto Pezzali)

Applications are now open for Pine Bluff residents to turn ideas into reality through an idea accelerator program.

Heartland Forward has partnered with Builders + Backers and Go Forward Pine Bluff. They are bringing the Community Growth Program and Toolkit, a first-of-its-kind idea accelerator, Pebble Fund and Buildership program, powered by Builders + Backers, to stimulate entrepreneurial thinking and action to Pine Bluff.

Anyone who has a creative and unexpected idea for solving a problem facing the Pine Bluff community can complete an application at Pine Bluff residents must apply by May 30. Residents with the most promising and innovative ideas will be selected to participate in a two-month-long virtual program starting on June 16, according to a news release.

This new cohort of five builders in Pine Bluff is part of Heartland Forward's commitment to funding and supporting 1,000 builders across the heartland by 2023 and a summer cohort of builders across nine cities.

A cohort of 50 builders completed the program earlier this month in Iowa City, Iowa, Oxford, Miss., Tulsa, Okla., and Oklahoma City, Okla.

"Problem solving with an entrepreneurial mindset will be key to rebuilding our post-covid local economies, and our Community Growth Program and Toolkit has already proven to be a successful, meaningful way to accelerate the entrepreneurial thinking needed to help our communities thrive," said Ross DeVol, president and chief executive officer of Heartland Forward.

"We're thrilled to be bringing this program to Pine Bluff as part of our commitment to support 1,000 builders across the heartland by 2023. We're confident this next cohort of builders will have the innovative thinking and ideas to create real change in their communities, and we look forward to seeing what they can accomplish in the months and years to come," DeVol said.

Donna Harris is CEO of Builders + Backers.

"Every community has potential game-changing ideas that are laying dormant," Harris said. "The key -- and the economic urgency -- is getting more people, in more places, to actually put these ideas into action. That's the power of small experiments and the premise behind our Idea Accelerator program. For less than a single venture investment, we can unleash and fuel thousands of experiments across the country and see new ventures, initiatives and companies emerge."

Go Forward Pine Bluff CEO Ryan Watley commented on the venture.

"Pine Bluff and southeast Arkansas residents have a great opportunity to work alongside experts in the entrepreneurial space," Watley said. "The work of The Generator has demonstrated the need for additional intervention. I envision those that participate will expand their vision, deepen their business acumen and ultimately monetize their unique approach to problems in the economy."

At the heart of the program are the Builders + Backers four program pillars, designed to mobilize and equip Builders through:

• Idea Accelerator: This cohort-based program combines a 45-day Builder Bootcamp to teach participants how to put ideas into action, followed by 45 days of actively executing their ideas through a single experiment.

• Pebble Fund: All of the Builders are supported by a $5,000 Pebble Grant to test their ideas. Participants are mentored by Master Builders throughout the program.

• Storytelling: A comprehensive media program that curates, captures and distributes stories of Buildership, both from within the programs and in communities everywhere. Through video, written stories, social media and media partnerships, the program inspires people to become Builders.

• Buildership Workshops: Workshops and other events introduce people to the ideas of Buildership and demonstrate that anyone can generate creative solutions through entrepreneurial experimentation that contribute to the sustainability of communities.

The pilot program in Tulsa and Oxford included 15 Builders solving problems in their communities related to workforce development, volunteerism, increasing food awareness and more. To learn more about the Builders, see

Heartland Forward is a nonpartisan, 501(c)(3) organization whose mission is to improve economic performance in the center of the United States by advocating for fact-based solutions to foster job creation, knowledge-based and inclusive growth and improved health outcomes. Heartland Forward conducts independent, data-driven research and programs to facilitate action-oriented discussion and impactful policy recommendations. To learn more, visit

Builders + Backers invests in exceptional entrepreneurs who are building global-scale ventures to power an entirely different future -- one where technology creates value for many instead of capturing it for a few. Through proprietary programming, Builders + Backers also inspires and equips people to best seize the opportunities of our digital era -- from experimentation and solving problems in their local communities to starting new ventures that could scale. By backing the most creative builders across the country, we can shape the digital future to be one in which more people participate and thrive.

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