Business

A Golden Opportunity for Supply Chain Startups

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Fuel is a 16-week, collaborative program for growth-stage, supply chain-focused startups who are serving enterprise clients. Fuel’s focus is on education, mentorship, and growing business relationships with enterprise partners.

BENTONVILLE, AR – A new opportunity for supply chain innovation companies opens in Northwest Arkansas. Fuel is designed to help these startups prepare to serve large enterprise customers – and connect them with those potential customers. The program is hosted by RevUnit, facilitated by Startup Junkie, and funded by the Arkansas EDC, and does not follow a traditional accelerator model. The focus is on education, mentorship, and growing business relationships with key corporate partners looking for solutions to some of the industry’s biggest supply chain & logistics challenges.

The program is built for Seed-Series A companies – startups that have a product much further along than a drawing on the back of a napkin. The program does not invest in the companies on the front-end, and there is not a capital guarantee on the back-end of the program. Access to capital will be facilitated for participants that are seeking investment, however the real financial emphasis of the program is to get companies ready for commercial agreements with larger institutions so that they can use customer money to fund their growth. The belief is that access to customers is more important than access to capital – and it makes the ladder much easier.

Participants will be immersed in a rigorous business-building curriculum, and they’ll leave with a better understanding of supply chain from product creation to customer ownership. The companies will be matched with highly experienced mentors, as well as coaching and connections to create actionable business outcomes with new partners and customers. Industry partners include Walmart’s Supply Chain Innovation team, the Technology leadership from Tyson Foods, UniGroup, CaseStack, the University of Arkansas, i2i Labs, and mentors representing Fortune 500 leadership, tech founders, VC firms.

More information about Fuel can be found at www.fuelaccelerator.com and applications can be submitted via f6s at https://www.f6s.com/fuelaccelerator/apply.

It Pays to be an Arkansas Based Company

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Navigating how to fund a startup venture is often one of the largest barriers to getting started in a new business. It is perhaps even more difficult when you are trying to start a company that requires extensive research and development before getting to a product or service that can be sold. The purpose of this article is to provide an example of how multiple programs can be stacked on top of one another to provide financial continuity to a technology-based business.

Allow me to propose a fictional technology-based company located in Arkansas that has a high degree of technical risk. This example is written with the greatest degree of optimism possible, stating the shortest conceivable timeline, maximum possible funding and highest probabilities of success. Please keep in mind that not everyone will be eligible for each of these funding programs and even if you are eligible, these are competitive programs and even good applicants may not receive an award.

Phase 0 = $30,000

First, let’s look at what I consider Phase 0 Funding. The proposed venture applies for and receives a TTAG grant of $3,750 matched by $1,250 from the company itself to support grant writing of an SBIR proposal. 

At the same time, the founders enroll in a concept stage training program such as the Delta I-Fund or I-CORPS GO that could each provide up to $25,000 in funding and valuable training on customer development methods to de-risk later research and development, saving money in the long run. Note that the traditional I-CORPS program is open to university-based teams. The GO program is a pilot in 2018 to allow non-university companies to participate in I-CORPS. 

Phase I/SBIR Match/Seed Round = $475,000

After understanding the customer and having basic scientific principles observed, the company applies for Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I Funding. Using the National Science Foundation as an example, suppose this company applies for and receives a Phase I grant of $225,000 in seed capital to conduct the first phase of product Research and Development (R&D) over a minimum of 6 months.

With the SBIR Phase I Funding, the company also receives an SBIR Match. The Arkansas Small Business Innovation Research Matching Grant Program provides AR companies a matching grant of $50,000 for their Phase I award.

Note that SBIR/STTR funds cannot be used for business development, marketing and sales, production, patent costs, entertainment, and sometimes equipment purchases. Additionally, grants may be on a reimbursable payment schedule, meaning it might be several months between when the business must be able to cover the expenses and when cash is in hand. To cover these expenses, the business needs capital. 

At this point, what will happen most commonly is that the entrepreneur puts in $50,000 of their own money and raises another $50,000 from friends and family, effectively raising Seed Funding.

Alternatively or in conjunction with the friends/family raise, you may also apply for the Technology Development Program (TDP) which provides a total maximum award of $100,000 for the development of a given technology. A match of private dollars may increase your likelihood of award but is not required under the TDP. You can expect to pay a negotiated royalty (say, +/- 1%) on future sales generated from the developed technology for up to ten years, or until 1.5x the investment is paid back, whichever comes first. 

Phase II and III = $2,350,000

After successfully completing the Phase I award, our fictional company applies for a second-round investment of $750,000 over 24 months in the SBIR Phase II Funding. Again, the Arkansas Small Business Innovation Research Matching Grant Program provides a match, this time of $100,000. 

Now entering Phase III (or commercialization), the company is ready to scale up and is raising $1 million in risk capital, known as a Series A Investment. At this point, the company is in a position where they are likely to add new jobs and is, therefore, a good fit for the Arkansas Department of Finance Risk Capital Matching Fund, which provides a co-investment to augment investments made by angel or other institutional investors. This program could provide $200,000 with a matching investment of $800,000. (Note the maximum co-investment is actually $750,000 but that would be for a much larger investment round.) The match would come from a syndicate of high-net-worth individuals, Angel funds, and investment groups like Fund for Arkansas’ Future. Raising this $1 million makes the company eligible for the NSF SBIR Phase IIb supplement of an additional $500,000. 

Incentives

The proposed venture will also consider Tax Incentives. An Equity Investment Tax Credit of 33 1/3% could be used to leverage the $800,000 private investment and generate a $266,666.67 tax credit for the investor(s). Your investor would then either use these tax credits to offset their tax liability or sell them at a discount for cash.

R&D Tax Credits are a powerful tool that can put cash flow back into the business. Since our fictional company is in a targeted business sector, they are eligible for the In-House Research income tax creditsequal to 33% of the qualified research and development expenditures incurred each year for up to five years. These tax credits may be sold. It is reasonable to assume that at least 60% of the expenses were direct, leaving a 40% indirect rate. Since essentially all of the direct work was R&D up to this point and the business has spent $2.855 million, there are $1,713,000 of qualified R&D expenditures eligible for the 33% incentive. The company sells these tax credits for 90% of their value and receives $508,761 in cash.

We know that a portion of the employee salaries were actually spent on indirect activities that weren’t eligible for the R&D tax credit. Hypothetically, this might total $100,000 in payroll over the multi-year time period. The business may also apply for Payroll Income Tax Credits, which are transferable income tax credits equal to 10% of payroll (so long as it is not for the same expenditure claimed by the R&D program, above) for up to five years. This would be another $10,000 in income tax credits generating $9,000 cash upon sale.

The venture may decide to forego the Payroll Income Tax Credits and instead take advantage of a Payroll Rebate equal to five percent (5%) of the payroll for new full-time permanent employees for a period of up to ten (10) years. I will skip estimating this benefit as 10 years is past the startup phase and payroll/employee growth will vary greatly depending on the commercialization strategy selected.

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The proposed fictional company has received $3,372,761 in financial resources with a private investment of $901,250 ($266,666.67 of which was immediately returned to the investors).

 

A few tips to keep in mind:

  • Non-dilutive funding early on can significantly de-risk a product and add value to the company, making it much easier to raise capital.

  • You can apply for up to two TTAG grants annually and may be eligible for multiple SBIR awards during the same cycle (if for clearly separate projects). Since funding levels are often lower than 30%, it can be a good strategy to have multiple proposals in play.  

  • Cash flow is important. You should have reserves to float expenses in between paying for an item and getting reimbursed for it. Always take the full 7% for-profit fee when applying for federal grant funding as a small business, but know this will not sufficiently cover legal and general business expenditures.  

  • Some state incentive programs are only available to startups in their first 5 years of business. Also, they may not be able to claw back retroactively, so at least establish contact early in the process.


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Haley Allgood

Haley Allgood, Executive Director of Startup Junkie Foundation, leads programs focused on entrepreneurial education, inclusive ecosystem development, technology commercialization, and workforce training. Outside the office, Haley enjoys traveling, playing with her two pups, and and relaxing at the pool with friends!

Kasim’s Comeback

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Sitting with Omar Kasim at his organic cold-pressed juice bar, I got the scoop on his comeback, as well as the process of building Juice Palm in the wake of losing Con Quesos a year ago.

Con Quesos had originally started out as Omar’s honors thesis, which he accelerated into a full-blown business plan. Upon pitching his idea, he realized that this was something that he could jump into head-on. In need of capital, he connected with an investor that had a strong background in franchising and the restaurant world. In its first year of business, Con Quesos flourished, winning accolades left and right. From being listed as one of the “Top 10 Restaurants in Fayetteville” on TripAdvisor, to being “Best New Restaurant” runner-up, Con Quesos was quickly becoming a hot spot in the city. After such a successful year, Omar met with his investor to renegotiate their agreement in the hopes of expanding. Rather than renegotiate a deal, the discussion resulted in a hostile takeover – Omar was effectively relieved of all managerial duties and pushed out of his business. Omar said that, while the takeover was hard to handle, he had seen it coming. With Omar out of the business, quality quickly fell to the wayside, with the unnamed investor foregoing the finer details that made Con Quesos unique. Omar could only watch as quality spiraled down due to high turnover and customer service falling out of focus.

After the hostile takeover, Omar took some time to soul search. Rather than taking a job at a larger corporate company, he rekindled his entrepreneurial flame. He had been conceptualizing a juice bar, and came to build Juice Palm in Uptown Fayetteville. His idea was so well-received by the community that Omar had actually signed a lease in the 8th Street Market in Bentonville – before even opening his first location.

In March of this year, Con Quesos’ investor reached out to Omar – basically the business was insolvent. It needed an influx of capital just to keep the doors open. Omar met with the investor and walked away sole proprietor of Con Quesos. He told me that the decision to take back Con Quesos was initially unappealing, but the thought of being able to take a dwindling business and make it successful again was what got him on board. Not to mention, the business in question was like his first child.

He had put blood, sweat and tears into building Con Quesos, and he had brought it to its peak – it can only go up from here.

While still running Juice Palm, Omar has fallen back into Con Quesos with a passion to bring it back to its former glory. He met with the staff, restructuring and re-organizing the restaurant. By focusing on the 3 C’s: cleanliness, customer service and consistency, Omar believes that Con Quesos will be back on top.

Splitting his time between his two businesses has been a challenge, and he often pulls 16 – 18 hour days. Omar explained that Juice Palm, while successful, is still in its infancy stage. With such a heavy customer focus, he has to make sure that staff and customers alike are educated on the variety of products offered. Omar is still at Con Quesos every day to help with rushes, plus it helps to show that he’s back, and is making things better. Omar was welcomed back by older employees, offering to come and work with him again, and even vendors, who, upon hearing he’d returned, offered to extend pay schedules to help cash flow. A testament to his leadership and positivity, maintaining these positive relationships (in business and in life) is not only the right thing, but the practical thing to do.

Omar hopes to have Con Quesos restructured and running smoothly soon, especially with plans to build another Juice Palm. The second location, in the 8th Street Market, is scheduled to open in October. In addition to managing two Juice Palms and Con Quesos, Omar will also be teaching an upper-level entrepreneurship class at the University in the fall. Why did he sign up for all of this, you might ask? Omar loves the restaurant world, and is excited to be a part of the students’ journey. He’s looking forward to helping others chase their dreams, even though it’s exhausting on his part. “As an entrepreneur, you always say ‘yes’ to opportunity.” Omar left me with a short story relevant to his journey – the lobster story. A lobster is a soft creature with a hard exterior shell. Once a lobster outgrows its shell, it sheds it and grows a new one. Discomfort is what allows a lobster to grow – if the lobster didn’t feel uncomfortable, it would never grow. He may be sleeping less than the recommended 8 hours a night, but as he put it, “Sleep doesn’t matter when you’re living the dream.”

Con Quesos is a fast casual fusion taco restaurant based in Fayetteville offering traditional Mexican cuisine tacos as well as fusion options from around the world. Juice Palm is a cold-pressed juice bar located in the Uptown Fayetteville Apartments & Shops offering pressed juices, smoothies, acai bowls and salads made using only USDA-Certified Organic products.


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Sarah Van Doorn

Sarah is a Content Strategist at Startup Junkie. Currently a senior at the University of Arkansas, she’s studying Journalism with an emphasis in Advertising and Public Relations. Sarah assists in content creation through writing client feature stories and managing the promotion of the Startup Junkies Podcast. In her free time, she enjoys reading, writing and playing Mario Kart.

My Entrepreneurial Journey

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There is no standard journey or common path to becoming an entrepreneur. Each of us has our own story and our own reason for choosing this path. The entrepreneurial path lacks “perceived” security, elements of prestige, and can be a lonely journey. However, I’ve found that the fear can be properly managed when security is objectively analyzed.

My journey began really taking shape after spending around 20 years working in large Fortune 500 companies. As I began thinking about my next 20 years, I found myself not being excited about the different paths and potential positions that were in front of me.

I longed for a career that didn’t have me checking my 401k and wondering regularly if I had the “security” needed to walk away and enjoy life.

I built out my entrepreneurial transition plan that was based on security and financial independence. I shared that plan with a few mentors that I trusted and asked for their thoughts and feedback.

Sharing my desires and my plan was the first step of my entrepreneurial journey. Getting serious about a transition and what possible next steps I would make changed my mindset radically. Things I previously ignored, I now looked at as opportunities, and in my case, the timeline I laid out for myself got pulled forward by a chance encounter that I would have ignored if I hadn’t laid my plan out earlier.

Jumping into a brewery partnership didn’t match my “strategic plan,” but it aligned with what I had written and shared with mentors. I approached it in a minimum viable product manner while still working within a large corporation. Mistakes were numerous and expensive, but they didn’t bankrupt the business. Step by step, the brewery gained momentum and new opportunities came our way. My strategic plan had now been radically accelerated, and the time came that I had to pull the plug from my perceived security provided by working within a large corporation.

I’ve got a few pieces of advice for others that might be in a situation similar to mine:

  1. Develop a work forever mindset: If you are doing a job that you really love and you’re passionate about, you’ll never consider retiring. Retiring and doing nothing is a recipe for misery.

  2. Develop a plan and share that plan with a few people you trust: Be strategic about what you could see yourself doing for the rest of your life. Do research on what skills you’ll need to gain, what capital you’ll need, and what your timeline will be.

  3. Take an iterative approach: Going “all-in” shouldn’t happen until ideas have been tested and business plans have been validated. Make small investments and your new vocation should start as a hobby.

  4. Make the leap: Once the business has been validated, it’s time to make the transition. Risk and danger are two different things. It’s risky to start a new venture on your own, or with partners. It’s dangerous to work without passion, or excitement. You only get one life to live. Living it with passion, purpose, and excitement is worth the risk.


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Jeff Charlson

Jeff Charlson is partner/CEO of Bike Rack Brewing Co. and Senior Entrepreneur in Residence for Startup Junkie. Jeff helped found Bike Rack Brewing Co. in 2014 while he was still working at Walmart Stores, Inc. in Bentonville, AR. Jeff spent nearly 25 years working for three Fortune 500 companies. Jeff had various roles in technology, management & sales throughout his career. The last 7 years of Jeff's career at Walmart were as a corporate officer/VP within the technology division. Jeff has lived in NWA for the last 17 years, and loves connecting with the community, working with entrepreneurs, listening to live music, mountain biking and spending time with his family & friends.