Nearly a decade after the Little Rock Technology Authority was created from enabling legislation in the 2007 legislative session, the downtown tech village on Tuesday announced its first tenant only three months away from its scheduled grand opening in early 2017.
After giving Executive Director Brent Birch the power to negotiate and execute lease agreements with prospective tenants at a special meeting on Nov. 1, the Little Rock Technology Authority announced its first set of tenant agreements in anticipation of the Phase 1 opening of the startup incubator on March 1, 2017.
“This is a big day in the state of affairs of this project,” Birch told a gathering of about 30 people at the Little Rock Chamber of Commerce, including several Tech Park board members. “The wait to get to this point has been a long journey, but it is finally paying off.”
The list of seven companies and two individual tenants include several technology-focused startups, entrepreneurs and early stage companies that already have some connection to the Tech Park’s current location and the Central Arkansas startup scene, including the Little Rock Venture Center.
Once in operation, the development to lure startups, entrepreneurs and maturing tech companies to the Little Rock area will connect the three adjacent properties formerly owned by the 415 Main Group LLC, Five Main LLC and DMT Ventures LLC. The multi-tenant, 38,000 square facility, still under construction, will be located at the center of the downtown district in the 400 block of Main Street, which Birch said will be completed by Feb. 24, 2017 and opened for business a week later.
In highlighting the Tech Park’s first- and longest tenant, Birch noted that the Venture Center already plays a key role in the authority’s strategic plan since becoming an occupant at the current space in January 2015.
“They are an entrepreneurial support organization that does the first touch-and-feel of the entrepreneurs and startups that come into our space,” he said.
According to Birch, the Venture Center has supported the creation of 153 new jobs in Central Arkansas over the past two years, and their member companies have raised $6.8 million in new capital. This past summer, the center sponsored the FinTech Accelerator, a 12-week program where the startup founders agree to live and work in Little Rock as they build a viable long-term business.
Construction continues on Phase I of the Little Rock Tech Park in downtown Little Rock.
The Venture Center, led by president and CEO Lee Watson, has plans to hold two additional accelerator programs in 2017 at the new facility. In announcing the other tenants that will move into the Tech Park in March, Birch said many of those companies are FinTech alums or current tenants of the downtown development. Following are the new tenants announced Tuesday.
• Corporate Insight Strategy (CIS)
A company founded by Little Rock native Alese Stroud that emerged from an early startup called Merger Match. CIS, a Venter Center member, provides a corporate maturity assessment platform designed to speed corporate growth and reduce risk of mergers and acquisitions.
Currently housed in the Tech Park location on Markham Street, IDatafy builds database solutions that help companies fight fraud and improve marketing efficiencies. Dave Wengel is the founder.
• Labscoop and Redoxica
Founded by Kundan Das, both of these early stage biomedical startups are tenants of the Tech Park. Labscoop has developed a science eCommerce engine designed to drive lab efficiency and savings via ordering and inventory management tools. Redoxica is a manufacturer and medical device products.
• LumoXchange and PFITR
Atlanta-based LumoXchange and PFITR, headquartered in St. Louis, are new to the Little Rock market after successful exits from the FinTech Accelerator. LumoXChange has formed a partnership with Arkansas’ Bear State Bank to grow its product, while PFITR is taking advantage of Little Rock’s depth of bond market and institutional investing knowledge to seek clients coast to coast.
• PC Assistance Technology
Founded more than 20 years ago, this Little Rock consulting firm specializes in cybersecurity, network management and full IT managed support for small and medium-sized businesses. Headquartered in Southwest Little Rock, company CEO Ted Clouser said 4 to 6 employees will office in the downtown tech village as the growing company looks to alleviate “space issues” at its current location.
Co-founded in 2013 by Little Rock area serial entrepreneurs Mike Steely and David Moody, Sparkible builds data-focused online marketing co-ops and provides customer acquisition, digital marketing and data analytics services for growing companies.
MORE TENANTS IN THE PIPELINE
In addition to the nine new companies that will become Tech Park tenants and occupy 65% of the furnished space, Mary Lewis, executive director of Accelerate Arkansas, and Clay Simmons, senior manager of software engineering & development for Comcast, will lease office space in the downtown facility.
Blocks away from the celebratory chamber fete, construction workers were busy working in the rain, moving forward to complete Phase I of the multimillion dollar incubator by the Tech Park’s Feb. 24 deadline.
The first phase of the downtown technology park will include 76 private offices and 75 open co-working at the Main Street location. The six-floor complex will also include a coffee bar, office suites, meeting and event space, indoor bike racks, 24/7 access and onsite parking, and a corporate-level conference room named after former authority chair Mary Goode.
Headed by East Harding Construction, work on the project began in April after the Tech Park board unanimously passed a resolution to formally authorize a $17.1 million loan to fund phase one of the project with financing from a local bank consortium. That deal was closed in mid-February and the authority has already expended the $9.6 million tax-exempt portion of that loan, and is now using the remaining proceeds to finish the project.
In the summer of 2015, the Tech Park board also received a $6.8 million advance from the City of Little Rock that IS part of the $22 million tech park bounty taxpayers approved during a 2011 sales tax referendum.
PHASE II PLANS, MASTER PLANS
Birch said he said is in talks with other potential clients interested in leasing some of the available remaining space at the downtown office building. The authority also has initiated preliminary plans for Phase II of the downtown project, which is expected to top more than $30 million.
“The goal is to create space that allows these tech-focused companies, entrepreneurs and startups to operate under one roof and collaborate and create a community,” Birch said. “For a long time the Little Rock tech community was segment, with everyone kind of running around in their own silos. Our effort is to bring all those people into one common facility so they can interact with each other and find talent in the Little Rock market where they can grow and develop their company without having to move to a Dallas, Nashville or Tulsa.”
Although there is no defined timetable for the project’s next phase, which will include state-of-the-art wet and dry labs and an additional 160,000 square feet of office space, Birch said authority will need to come up with additional funding to move forward.
“We are evaluating that. Obviously that is a big capital raise for the project,” he said. “We have to sharpen our pencils and see where we can come up with financing or raise the capital to go about building that …”
Birch said Tech Park officials are in discussions with Little Rock city officials on the timing of the next payment from the $22 million sales tax allocation. After that, Birch said the authority plans to make more property acquisitions in the downtown area near the almost-completed Tech Park headquarters. In past meeting, board members have discussed acquiring other well-known downtown properties, including the KATV building at Fourth and Main streets.
The Tech Park master plan calls for phases 3, 4 and 5 of the downtown project that are expected to be mostly new construction and include an 800-car parking deck, retail and restaurant space, and office accommodations for established tech companies.