Little Rock’s Venture Center is launching a new program called VCTech, an effort to reinforce the organization’s commitment and support for technology-oriented companies and entrepreneurs in Arkansas.
Apptegy, an education technology company that started in Little Rock and now has offices in the Riverdale area serving 2,700 clients, is partnering with the Venture Center in the effort, which begins next month.
VCTech will have quarterly networking events and is built to promote awareness of Arkansas-based technology startups and build on the state’s legacy of technology innovation.
The Venture Center, recognized globally for its efforts to promote and enhance financial technology start-ups, says the initiative is an effort to stress that it offers support for the broad sweep of the state’s entrepreneurial ecosystem and that it is not limited to a fintech focus.
“As we have evolved as an organization, there’s been a sense that we’ve been a bit myopic with a focus on fintech,” said Wayne Miller, executive director of the Venture Center. “It’s not that we’ve lost track of the more tech-oriented start-ups but we just aren’t seeing the participation statewide at the Venture Center that we have seen historically.”
The initiative will offer meetup-type events to promote networking and mentoring opportunities and spread awareness of the support system offered by the Venture Center and other technology oriented companies operating in Arkansas.
“We know the tech companies are out there but sometimes it’s like the needle in the haystack trying to find them,” Miller said. “We want to open that doorway back up for companies that are more tech oriented and more tech forward so those people know there’s a place they can come to have access to the resources that will help propel them to success.”
VCTech kicks off Aug. 2 with an initial event from 5:30-7 p.m. at the Venture Center’s offices in the Little Rock Technology Park, 417 Main St. Technology-oriented start-ups or entrepreneurs — or those interested in mentoring participants — can get more details at venturecenter.co/vctech.
Each quarterly session will feature a tech start-up founder from Arkansas, with the company demonstrating how its product works and telling the tale of their journey from founding to operational success.
Apptegy is a prime example of an Arkansas success story. The company was started by founder Jetson George in his house and was sparked by George’s discovery that local schools lacked a centralized tool to share information about lessons and educational efforts with students’ families. The company today has more than 200 employees who support school districts in all 50 states and internationally.
Those stories can be vital to invigorating interest in the state’s technology community, Miller notes. “We want to get that energy built up again around the sector,” he added. “If what you’re doing is the good work of entrepreneurs we want to have the capacity to be useful and helpful.”
PPP: DID IT WORK?
The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis has a new report out examining the effectiveness of the federal Paycheck Protection Program, an $800 billion lending initiative begun soon after the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic in the spring of 2020.
As businesses closed and employees were thrown out of work, Congress established the loan forgiveness program, administered by the U.S. Small Business Administration, to provide financial relief to small businesses and help them maintain payroll, hire back employees who were laid off and cover key overhead expenses.
The Fed’s report, which borrows from a PPP study published by the American Economic Foundation, focuses on two key issues: whether the program was timely and whether it was targeted.
The verdict? Timely, yes, coming when many small businesses were completely shut down out of public health and safety concerns. Targeted, not so much.
“The PPP was a very large and very timely fiscal-policy intervention, saving about 3 million jobs at its peak in the second quarter of 2020 and distributing $800 billion well within two years of the onset of the covid-19 crisis,” the Fed reported. “But it was poorly targeted, as almost three-quarters of its benefits went to unintended recipients, including business owners, creditors and suppliers, rather than to workers.”
Rank-and-file workers were at the bottom of the list of primary beneficiaries of PPP spending. Small-business owners, their suppliers and banks that boosted loan volumes and earned fees from the loans gained more financial advantage.
Findings noted that PPP loans boosted firm employment by 4-10% in mid-May 2020 and by 0-6 % by the end of the year. “Only about one-quarter of PPP funds supported jobs that otherwise would have disappeared,” Fed analysts wrote.
The report says about 2.97 million jobs per week were preserved in the second quarter of 2020 and 1.75 million jobs per week were saved in the fourth quarter of that year.
In Arkansas, SBA records show that 102,054 loans were issued through the program, totaling about $5 billion. The average loan amount was $49,000.
WORKFORCE TRAINING SUPPORT
Workforce-training efforts in Central Arkansas were boosted last week with news that Pulaski Technical College in North Little Rock is slated to receive $1.35 million in grants awarded by the Arkansas Department of Higher Education.
Four technical programs will receive support: the collision repair and tractor trailer operation programs were awarded $400,000 apiece; the tractor trailer servicing and diesel technology program was awarded $300,000; and the aviation maintenance program was awarded $250,000.
The school says it will use the funds to purchase equipment, upgrade technology and enhance virtual reality trainers and simulators.
“The items purchased will greatly benefit students by providing high-quality training that exceeds industry expectations,” said Angela Kremers, dean of the technical and professional studies school. “Students will be well-prepared for the workforce and employers will benefit from the exceptional pipeline of employees.”
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