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Startup Village a place to grow

UA helps businesses find their own space by Ryan Anderson | January 8, 2023 at 4:00 a.m.
A shared workspace is seen Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2022, inside the Startup Village in the Hathcock Building in downtown Fayetteville. Visit nwaonline.com/photo for today's photo gallery. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Andy Shupe)

FAYETTEVILLE -- Warrenesha Arnold tried to start and run a business from home, but she felt it was unsuitable.

Then she landed a workspace in Startup Village at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville.

Startup Village -- which provides free co-working space in downtown Fayetteville to seed-stage ventures -- helped Arnold establish boundaries between work, school and home life.

"This is a great space, because it really helps me focus," said Arnold, a senior at UA's Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences and founder of Nyarai Skin Care. "When I'm here, I don't think about anything else -- just business."

Grace Underfanger, a junior studying graphic design and business, had a similar experience.

Operating out of her room was "not a great environment to work," she said, and a garage or coffee shop also left a lot to be desired.

"At coffee shops, there are lots of distractions. But this is a dedicated working environment, and I'm incredibly productive here," said Underfanger, referring to Startup Village.

Startup Village is available to her "24/7," and she has her own workspace for her belongings.

"You don't have to move everything every time [you work], and I can come here in the middle of the night if I want to, which is very helpful," said Underfanger, who established Crimson Fox Design Co.

Nyarai Skin Care and Crimson Fox Design Co. are the latest companies to emerge from Startup Village, which opened in November 2019.

PERSONAL INSPIRATION

For Arnold, who is majoring in human nutrition and dietetics, her own personal skin care challenges inspired her to start her company, which is vegan-based and offers products that fight acne, dark spots, scars and fine lines.

The county seat of Lee County, Arnold's hometown of Marianna, has a population of 3,575, so availability of skin-care products is limited, especially for darker skin tones. The town didn't even have a dermatologist. So Arnold was essentially left to her own devices to treat her skin issues, she said. She did her own research and began experimenting with turmeric-based remedies, but it took her six months to alight upon a mixture that solved her problems.

"I started with soap, then to a face mask," she said. She quickly realized her products could help other women of color who may be in similar predicaments, and she launched her business in 2020 with a customer base consisting mainly of people she knew from home.

She has since expanded to the university community and Northwest Arkansas and continues to add products to her line, she said.

"It's growing and going well."

She views Nyarai Skincare as a "service," because healthier skin gives women their "confidence" back, she said. "It's not just looking better, [but] feeling better, and I understand that, because I've experienced that. When their skin looks better, you can see their spirit is uplifted."

Currently, Arnold's most-popular products are a cleanser, a face oil and a "full-essentials kit," but she's planning to launch several new products in the next couple of months, she said. More information is on her website, nyaraiskincare.com.

ENTREPRENEURSHIP LESSONS

Arnold's business dominates her weekends -- "I don't see weekends as 'breaks'" -- but that's "no problem," she said. As an entrepreneur, "you have to have self-discipline and be consistent."

Arnold wants to be an example to others, and she hopes they follow their own ambitions toward entrepreneurship.

"I recommend others get involved, but you have to take your business seriously," she said. "Take advantage of opportunities like workshops to accumulate skills, and invest in your business, [not only with money] but with your time."

Arnold, who is scheduled to graduate in May, plans to earn a graduate degree in human nutrition while continuing to expand her business, she said. "In 10 years, I'd like to be a registered dietitian."

A specialist in apparel merchandise design, Underfanger has worked with national brands and local companies, and she founded her company to help businesses connect with -- and cultivate -- their communities.

She's worked in the graphic design business for years, but when she lost her job as a result of pandemic-caused layoffs and still "wanted a creative outlet," she struck out on her own, she said. The native of Springfield, Ill., received assistance and advice from entrepreneurship incubators in the Illinois capital, which helped her narrow her business focus, as well as emphasizing the importance of cultivating customers.

Underfanger was lured to UA-Fayetteville by its graphic design program, and she has some customers through the university, she said. She also has a website, crimsonfoxdesignco.com, and she markets mostly via social media, particularly TikTok.

She's looking forward to accessing the university's print lab in the spring semester to "take some of my designs and physically [manifest] them, because you learn things in the printing process, and I can show them to my clients, instead of just a mock-up," she said.

Underfanger is also looking to connect with more potential customers, as "you only need a couple, because a lot of business is recurring."

She's already working with Hill Records, the student-run label at the university, she said. That included pitching in with marketing and design of the EP released by Hill Records in November and an upcoming album project with the university's Schola Cantorum choral group.

Both Arnold and Underfanger "are very clearly dedicated, their businesses are important to them and they know their businesses are being made stronger by being here," said Phil Shellhammer, senior director of Business Incubation in the Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the university. "Both of them are using this space to the fullest, and we want more students like them to find us here."

"I'm a self-motivated go-getter who loves to find resources, and the university has been so helpful," Arnold said. "That's how I found out about Startup Village."

'SURROUNDED BY SUPPORT'

Arnold and Underfanger's businesses join several others, including Rejoicy, established in 2021, at Startup Village, which is located in the historic Hathcock building at the corner of Block Avenue and Dickson Street, according to Brandon Howard, communications and social media specialist in the Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

Rejoicy, co-founded by Luke Brown, a UA-Fayetteville alumnus, and Edwin Ortiz, helps promote online sales by providing a way for business owners to create a quick and affordable website.

Startup Village -- which shares space with the Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center at the University of Arkansas -- provides reservable desk and office space, as well as shared services, including a conference room, kitchen, printer, WiFi, phones and mailboxes, according to Howard.

Opened in 2019, companies -- Lapovations and MORE Technologies have already "graduated" from the space after starting there -- are selected through a competitive annual membership application process, with leases spanning six months and maxing out at a year.

"The storage space and kitchen is very helpful, especially when you're here for several hours" at a time, said Underfanger, who spends at least 15 hours per week in the Village.

An affiliation with the university "is the first thing we look for" in an application, and "we want people who will actually be in this space and use it to add to the community," said Shellhammer. "I want people who are dedicated to their business and who are here because I want those casual conversations and interactions among the people in the building, because they learn from each other every single time."

"Networking" inside the Village has been one of the most-crucial elements for Arnold, she said. For example, she met Underfanger inside the Village, and she helped her with packaging for some skincare products.

"I had the [ability] to create what she needed," Underfanger said. There's "shared bonding here, because we're like-minded individuals all really going for it with our businesses."

Underfanger has benefited from the relationships she's developed within Startup Village, as well as advice from her fellow entrepreneurs, she said. "I'm a very introverted person, but I'm trying to be more open, and there's no co-worker drama here, because we're all trying to do the same thing."

At Startup Village, "we cheer each other on, which is good for morale," she added. "It can be challenging juggling a business, school and a part-time job, but that [encouragement] keeps you going."

Sharing a floor of the building with the Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center is optimal, because that's another resource for those in the Startup Village, Shellhammer said. "We want our founders to feel they're surrounded by support."

Among the highest hurdles for startup companies is a lack of office space, which Startup Village attempts to rectify with flexible space that can serve sole founders or small groups, he said. There's also a conference room and another meeting space with a more "casual, friendly atmosphere."

"Where do you meet clients" is an issue faced by nascent businesses, so the conference room in Startup Village fills a critical need, he said. Without it, "you'd have to rent space, which can be expensive, or you can try a coffee shop, but that's not always the most professional" -- plus there's ambient noise.

"You can make the spaces here what you want, because we have the flexibility here," he said. For example, MORE Technologies "had a bank of 3D printers here."

Shellhammer prefers to see Startup Village as a "co-working community, not a co-working space," because the interactions among the entrepreneurs are as important -- if not more so -- than the space itself, he said.

"We're not full up, yet, because we're still coming out of covid" -- a time when many office spaces were abandoned as people worked from home -- "but we have a couple more likely [for spring] semester, and the opportunity here is great."

  photo  A sign hangs Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2022, inside the Startup Village in the Hathcock Building in downtown Fayetteville. Visit nwaonline.com/photo for today's photo gallery. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Andy Shupe)
 
 
  photo  Warrenesha Arnold, a University of Arkansas student from Marianna, speaks Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2022, about the skin care business she started and operates out of the Startup Village in the Hathcock Building in downtown Fayetteville. Visit nwaonline.com/photo for today's photo gallery. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Andy Shupe)
 
 

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