In 2007, Fort Smith launched a bold initiative for small businesses and entrepreneurs, the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center. A joint effort of the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce, the city of Fort Smith and the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith, the IEC was created for the entities to work together in addressing critical barriers to a more robust economy while bolstering the regional economy through small business.
The first of its kind in Arkansas, the IEC strives to be a catalyst for entrepreneurial growth by ensuring that entrepreneurs receive the help they need, regardless of how they enter the service provider system or where they are in the business development process.
The launch of the IEC was a major milestone in the implementation of the TIP plan commissioned by the Chamber to generate economic development strategies for the Greater Fort Smith Region. Today, the IEC stands as a symbol of the region’s commitment to creating an environment that is conducive to the establishment of new companies and to the growth of existing businesses in the region.
During the center’s first full year in the region, the IEC has established structured coaching programs and peer groups designed to hone the skills of – and provide support for – existing businesses and fledgling entrepreneurs. Participating in IEC programs are businesses at virtually every maturity level – from start-up to established industries interested in further expansions.
Not only have private businesses embraced tools available through the IEC, the organization has also launched educational programs for area high school students as well as adults. Fort Smith high school students recently had the opportunity to receive loans and start up their own business within the school year, which resulted in students learning critical business skills quickly. The students put their businesses on display at the Chamber’s 2008 Regional Business EXPO and had to pay back the loan at the end of the school year.
The IEC has also begun to build bridges between business owners and the financial community, engage in community outreach efforts to educate others about the benefits of entrepreneurship and engage in local and state entrepreneurship, policy development efforts.
Next steps for the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center include continued outreach to business owners of established businesses, building a quarterly business-to-business networking program, developing and scheduling new training and professional development programs, expanding the coaching program to surrounding communities, and implementing a sustainable funding program to ensure future organization operations.
The IEC understands that the core of entrepreneurship is the identification and exploitation of market opportunities and the ability to make good decisions based on imperfect information. The IEC helps entrepreneurs develop these capabilities by delivering consulting, coaching, peer networking and experiential training. For more information or to get started, contact the IEC at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.iecfs.org.
Create an environment in the Greater Fort Smith Region that stimulates the entrepreneurial spirit, develops entrepreneurial skills and creates programs as well as processes that support entrepreneurs to enable the creation, stabilization and growth of companies as well as jobs
The people who create and grow enterprises. The process through which these enterprises are created and grown is entrepreneurship
The process of developing or introducing something new
A business community center that serves the Greater Fort Smith Region to foster innovative ideas, inspire new product development, assist entrepreneurs, build and strengthen businesses, and encourage our youth to think big with their lives and careers