Gov. Asa Hutchinson Helps Announce Fuel 2020, Apprentice Program

Gov. Asa Hutchinson Helps Startup Junkie, RevUnit Announce Fuel 2020

NWA Council and Arkansas Center for Data Sciences Create Apprentice Program

Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson joined Startup Junkie and RevUnit on Wednesday as the organizations announced the second iteration of the Fuel Accelerator.

Fuel will return in 2020, bringing a cohort of growth-stage companies in the fields of artificial intelligence and machine learning to Northwest Arkansas for a 12-week, enterprise-ready accelerator.

In a coinciding announcement, the Northwest Arkansas Council and Arkansas Center for Data Sciences announced their partnership in a project to create 200 apprenticeships, a program that includes classroom education and on-the-job training for a minimum of one year. The program includes training in cybersecurity, website development or data analytics as individuals start careers with area companies. 

Nelson Peacock, president and CEO of the Northwest Arkansas Council led by welcoming the room full of representatives of more than 30 Northwest Arkansas companies. Startup Junkie’s Taylor Hasley, Fuel program director, followed with the announcement of Fuel 2020.

“I, on behalf of Startup Junkie and RevUnit, am excited to announce that we have partnered again to host the second rendition of our Fuel accelerator program – Fuel 2020. Fuel is a 12-week, collaborative program that matches enterprise ready startups with a focus on artificial intelligence and machine learning with key enterprise partners here in Northwest Arkansas.”

The first cohort was comprised of startups from across the United States. As a result of the program, some of those participating companies put down roots in Northwest Arkansas to grow their business, according to Hasley.

Fuel will provide regular, hands-on education and workshops. Participants will gain access to other startup founders, industry experts, institutions of higher education, and public policy officials.

“[The Fuel Accelerator] is exciting for the entire state of Arkansas because it illustrates that we are accomplishing a strategic plan, that we’re carrying out our desire to increase not only businesses that can excel in technology but also supply the existing industries here with the talent and technology that’s needed,” said Gov. Hutchinson.

“The Fuel Accelerator has had success,” the Governor added. “The second cohort will be from across the country, top-level companies. We’re going to be able to land some great companies that will stay right here when they see what all Arkansas has to offer.”

In 2017, the Arkansas General Assembly allocated $2 million to be used for accelerator programs, Hutchinson said. The goal, he said, was to recruit startups from across the nation to Arkansas to be mentored and build their company.

“This accelerator program has exceeded all of our expectations,” Hutchinson said. “These programs have resulted in Arkansas becoming a micro hub of technology and startup companies. We’re looked at, nationally, as a leader because of these accelerator programs.”

Curriculum for the Fuel Accelerator is developed by RevUnit. The Bentonville-based company recently received a significant investment from Mountaingate Capital, a leading private equity firm based in Denver. The accelerator is facilitated by Startup Junkie, the Fayetteville-based, mission-driven entrepreneurial resource organization servicing the Northwest Arkansas community.

To be eligible for participation in the accelerator, companies must have secured initial funding or revenue and must have a team member present in Northwest Arkansas during the 12-week program. Office space will be provided at Exchange in Bentonville. Participants must be working to innovate and shape the future with new ideas and technologies.

This program is sponsored by the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, RevUnit and Startup Junkie in order to foster more activity and innovation around the future of AI and ML in Northwest Arkansas. Fuel is a zero-cost, zero-equity accelerator.

Applications are now open, and interviews are expected to begin later this year. Finalists for the second Fuel Accelerator will be announced in January 2020 followed by a kickoff reception.

For more information about Fuel Accelerator, visit fuelaccelerator.com.

The apprenticeship program announced by the Council and ACDS will target high school and university students who graduate in the spring and adults who are making career changes to work in cybersecurity, website development or data analytics. ACDS and Arkansas Department of Commerce grants will pay for the training.

People who are interested in becoming apprentices in those three fields will be able to submit applications through the Northwest Arkansas Council’s new careers-focused website: www.careersnwa.com. The application will be on the website in October.

“[This apprenticeship program] is another part of our strategic plan,” Hutchinson said. “We will create more talent for industry in the IT field… We have to be able to expand our workforce in this arena to meet the need of industry.”

This model represents shared action between education programs, employers and state agencies to create greater awareness of career opportunities in Northwest Arkansas. The program will strengthen the region’s ability to retain talent in key growth areas.

“I’m excited about this apprenticeship program,” the Governor said. “We think about apprenticeships, and that’s usually referring to machinists or people who work with their hands. But now we can expand the apprenticeship program into the IT fields and combine what they’re learning in the high schools with that the industries have to offer and see what paths lead to a good paying job.”

The apprenticeship accelerator provides the employers and apprentices with the shared benefit of cost- support of training, and it bridges the experience gap that many job seekers encounter while trying to gain employment.

The program allows NWA employers to hire entry-level talent who can build a career based on the opportunity, and the employees can quickly become an asset to the Northwest Arkansas workforce and economy.