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Winrock and Cartwheel partnership will develop promising tech startups in Northwest Arkansas

A new business acceleration project funded by Walton Family Foundation creates a fast path from concept to commercial enterprise for software services firms with big potential

December 9, 2021 ─ Winrock International and Cartwheel, an Arkansas-based startup studio, are collaborating on a $1.2 million project funded by the Walton Family Foundation to identify and validate the most promising new business concepts in Northwest Arkansas, helping to transform ideas for fledgling firms into profitable enterprises.

The 12-month project, called Cartwheel: A Next Generation Business Accelerator, will validate, build, and source vital seed funding for competitively selected software-as-a-service startup business concepts based in Northwest Arkansas. Cartwheel is a Bentonville, Ark.-based startup studio focused on identifying, developing and sourcing investment for new and startup businesses with viable concepts. While similar startup studios exist in the U.S., few support new enterprises in the Mid-South, with most located on either the East or West Coast. The Cartwheel project specifically targets Northwest Arkansas-based software services firms for development, thought leaders and other new talent for winning concepts will be recruited both regionally and nationally.

Cartwheel will initially identify 20 of the most promising new business opportunities in the Northwest Arkansas region for rigorous screening and review by experienced technology entrepreneurs, who will examine each proposal’s ideation, business model, software, go-to-market strategy, recruiting plan and other shared services. The competitive process will winnow proposals, culminating with selection and launch of the two most viable and high-potential new companies. The firms will receive an array of services and support including help recruiting CEOs and co-founders, and assistance raising capital investments.

“Startup studios are really just about diligent, unbiased idea validation,” said Joshua Stanley, Cartwheel’s CEO and managing partner. “We’re seeking to pull the known ‘90% failure rate of startups’ up to the pre-formation phase to produce new companies that have the highest probability of success.”

Northwest Arkansas’s economic growth is dependent on a strong entrepreneurial foundation. Creative business acceleration initiatives like the new Cartwheel project, implemented in partnership with Winrock’s Innovate Arkansas program, help grow investments in the region’s current entrepreneurial ecosystem while enabling scalability for ambitious startups. At the same time, expansion of that ecosystem has exposed resource gaps and yielded opportunities for improvement. The program fills one of the most significant gaps: The need to increase early-stage business development, attract startup-founding talent, and directly activate pre-seed to seed venture capital funding in the region.

“This exciting new project funded by the Walton Family Foundation and implemented by Winrock and Cartwheel approaches rural economics and business development from a different angle: it presupposes that companies must innovate around the pain points they face every day,” said Winrock CEO and President Rodney Ferguson. “Our goal is to seek and develop the best, most enterprising software services concepts – those that solve pain points and unlock new opportunities for business growth and development. And we’re doing it right here in Arkansas.”

The project aims to attract a new class of startup founding talent in the region, supported by immersive education and direct activation of pre-seed to seed venture capital funding in the region.

Cartwheel will do so by helping startups with market experimentation, go-to-market strategy and business plans, software-as-a-service product development, preparing pitch decks for investor validation, competing in sprint weeks and other startup-building and training activities, and obtaining funding. 

Winrock’s Innovate Arkansas will serve as a strategic partner to Cartwheel, assisting with business acceleration, talent recruitment, and capital raising, including strategic studio decisions, network connections, and deal- structuring for each new company.


Winrock International is a recognized leader in U.S. and international development with a focus on social, agricultural and environmental issues. Inspired by its namesake, Winthrop Rockefeller, Winrock combines scientific and technical expertise with entrepreneurial innovation to deliver market-based solutions that improve lives around the world. Winrock’s mission is to empower the disadvantaged, increase economic opportunity and sustain natural resources across the globe. 


Innovate Arkansas is an Arkansas state-funded initiative that helps scale promising Arkansas technology ventures. Funded by the Arkansas Economic Development Commission and administered by Winrock International, Innovate Arkansas assists technology entrepreneurs in turning startup companies into viable commercial enterprises.


The Walton Family Foundation is at its core, a family-led foundation. Three generations of the descendants of our founders, Sam and Helen Walton, and their spouses, work together to lead the foundation and create access to opportunity for people and communities. We work in three areas: improving K-12 education, protecting rivers and oceans and the communities they support, and investing in our home region of Northwest Arkansas and the Arkansas-Mississippi Delta. To learn more, visit

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