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Winrock Introduces Early-Stage Fund to Close Financing Access Gap in Arkansas

Walton Family Foundation contributes $1.1 million to form state’s first evergreen, not-for-profit fund for startup companies

LITTLE ROCK, ARKANSAS – DECEMBER 10, 2020 – Winrock International is pleased to announce the Validation Fund, Arkansas’ first evergreen, not-for-profit fund dedicated to deploying early-stage awards to validation-stage Arkansas startup companies. Powered by an initial $1.1 million contribution from the Walton Family Foundation (WFF), the Validation Fund aids in the creation of jobs and economic prosperity across Arkansas by providing essential early-stage capital to startup companies. The WFF’s contribution will fund awards of $50,000 to $150,000 in eight to 10 validation-stage companies in Northwest Arkansas over the next two years. The Validation Fund, plans to raise an additional $6 million over time to expand these efforts throughout the state.

The Validation Fund links Winrock’s decades-long experience in supporting entrepreneurs with the provision of capital at the earliest stages of new venture development. Winrock’s Innovate Arkansas and the Delta I-Fund will provide necessary technical assistance and counseling to companies seeking Validation Fund contributions.

“We are proud to help take the lead, with the assistance of the Walton Family Foundation, in addressing a critical gap in Arkansas’ entrepreneurial ecosystem,” said Winrock International President and CEO Rodney Ferguson. “From Innovate Arkansas to the Delta I-Fund and the Arkansas Women’s Business Center, Winrock provides expertise to support entrepreneurs and promising young businesses in Arkansas.”

Winrock has an established continuum of supporting capital needs throughout the entrepreneurial landscape, starting with proof-of-concept to validation, angel and venture. The lack of Arkansas capital at the validation stage is a competitive disadvantage for Arkansas entrepreneurs and limits the opportunity to build a sustainable knowledge-based economy. According to the Milken Institute’s State Science and Technology Index (SSTI), Arkansas ranks in the bottom quintile in the availability of risk capital. Between 2010 and 2016, Arkansas companies received only 0.051 percent of venture capital within the U.S., according to the SSTI. As a result, Arkansas is missing growth opportunities.

“Winrock has worked for decades in Arkansas to build community and improve well-being, and supporting entrepreneurship is an important part of achieving those goals,” Winrock U.S. Programs Senior Director Linsley Kinkade said. “The Validation Fund, with support from Winrock entrepreneurial programming, carries on in that legacy by helping address an area of need.”

The Validation Fund is Arkansas’s first approach to catalyzing this crucial category of early-stage risk capital. In coming years the Validation Fund plans to raise $6 million for awards in seven targeted industries: healthcare, retail, transportation, distribution and logistics, agriculture, food and natural resources, financial services, data sciences, advanced analytics and software development, and energy and power electronics.

The Validation Fund at Winrock International gives promising startup companies an opportunity for success and allows donors to support a crucial phase of startup development in the state, aiding in the creation of jobs and economic prosperity in Arkansas.

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