University of Arkansas, partners to launch Bounds Accelerator for startups

A person types on a laptop keyboard in this June 19, 2017, file photo. (AP/Elise Amendola)
A person types on a laptop keyboard in this June 19, 2017, file photo. (AP/Elise Amendola)


Entrepreneurs in the emerging technology arena can receive assistance through a new startup accelerator announced by the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville and several partners.

Bounds Accelerator will leverage technology like blockchain, artificial intelligence, augmented reality and virtual reality. The university's Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation, and Cartwheel Studio will launch the program in January, according to the university. Cartwheel is an established venture builder with business-to-business and Software as a Service experts, entrepreneurs, digital product designers, and technologists.

The endeavor is funded by grants from the Arkansas Economic Development Commission and support from Coinbase Ventures, a leading cryptocurrency exchange, blockchain platform, and accelerator partner; Haun Ventures, a $1.5 billion venture capital firm; and The AI Foundation, a venture-backed dual commercial and nonprofit enterprise that includes top AI scientists and researchers.

The 16-week accelerator will unite entrepreneurs, industry leaders, tech experts and startups to advance digital transformation in the retail value chain, which includes manufacturing, transportation and logistics, supply chain and retail. The goal for the first cohort is 10 participants -- at least three of whom are located in Arkansas -- at the "Seed-to-Series A" stage.

"Arkansas has global reach within the retail value chain, thanks to local industry leaders like Walmart, Tyson Foods, ArcBest, J.B. Hunt and others," Josh Stanley, Cartwheel Studio's CEO, said in a news release from the university. "There's no better place on earth to run an emerging tech accelerator targeting supply chain or retail-related concepts than right here."

Startups are often the first sector to "see and take advantage" of emerging technologies, and this partnership provides the university's industry partners with access to "innovative people and products that could quickly advance existing business goals," added Sarah Goforth, executive director of the Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation. "For their part, the startups will gain access and exposure to some of the biggest and most influential customers and investors in the world, and our students will have a front-row seat to this exchange of value."

The Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation will pair each Bounds Accelerator participant with one paid intern with mentorship and advisory support, including growth-to-scale optimization audits, according to the university. Each cohort participant will have an intern from the university for 15 hours per week who can assist with everything from market research to strategy refinement.

Mentors will include a mix of experienced startup founders, technologists working at the intersection of AI and Web3 (a decentralized iteration of the internet to be built on blockchain technology), product leaders, retail value chain subject matter experts, notable academics, and experienced professionals and executives from Arkansas-based enterprises, according to the university. Participants will also have the opportunity to interview companies within Northwest Arkansas as part of the market-validation track.

Interested individuals can find more information, and apply to Bounds Accelerator online at https://bounds.cartwheel.studio/. Applications are due by Nov. 3.

This is the Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation's third "vertical," following in the steps of the Greenhouse Outdoor Recreation Program and BioDesign, said Brandon Howard, communications and social media specialist in the Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation. Similar to those other verticals, Bounds Accelerator will include in-person orientation and a demo day event -- for Bounds Accelerator, demo day will be in April in Bentonville -- along with weekly remote learning and mentoring sessions.

Since its founding in spring 2022, 17 outdoors-focused startups have launched and expanded their businesses through the Greenhouse Outdoor Recreation Program, with the program's largest cohort of startups engaged this fall, according to Howard. BioDesign, on the other hand, focuses on healthcare solutions.

The university partners with HealthTech Arkansas and leading healthcare institutions in Northwest Arkansas to solve challenges faced by medical professionals, with paid student interns working closely with clinicians, researchers, and medical partners to identify potential innovations and marketable medical solutions, according to the university. It's funded by a grant from the Walton Family Foundation.

Greenhouse Outdoor Recreation Program participants have praised the program.

"We're so glad we're in this," said Elysia Contreras Springer, who with her husband Zach launched Gnargo Bike Co. Gnargo takes discarded bikes and repurposes them into modern electric assisted cargo bikes to provide a low-cost option for people to explore the trails of Northwest Arkansas. The Greenhouse Outdoor Recreation Program "is a lot of work, but a lot of reward."

Pedro Somarriba was part of the first cohort, and his business, Lacaida Ropes (lacaidaropes.com), was months ahead of where it would have been without the Greenhouse Outdoor Recreation Program, he explained last year. "It made us."

It was "exactly what we needed to be part of," he added. "If you're based in Northwest Arkansas and have an idea in the outdoor industry, you need to be looking at" this program.


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