The Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center (ASBTDC), based at UA Little Rock, has launched a new program to help entrepreneurs and small business owners in minority, rural, and other underserved communities across Arkansas.
The Arkansas Business Navigator Project helps small businesses address and overcome some of the systemic challenges that face entrepreneurs from underrepresented communities. ASBTDC expects to provide training and technical assistance to more than 5,000 new and existing small businesses owners during the two-year project. This support includes access to capital, business development, contracting and procurement, marketing, operations, and exporting.
Led by Associate State Director Michael Singleton, the Arkansas Business Navigator team also includes Diego Morales Ibarra, project manager; Angela Gardner, Tania Martinez Chavez, and Adriana Fuentes Archila, navigator specialists; Harrison Hudson, market researcher and content specialist; and Javier Hernandez, navigator eFellow.
“The goal of the Arkansas Business Navigator Project is to ensure that entrepreneurs from underrepresented and underserved communities have full access to broad services to help them start or grow their own businesses,” Singleton said. “With this program, we are democratizing entrepreneurship by giving the people the tools and resources to take control of their own futures.”
Under the community navigator approach, trusted community partners act as “spokes” who will reach into specific sectors of the state’s entrepreneurial community. ASBTDC will provide centralized support and structure for all the spokes, develop and share tools for the spokes, and provide market research and specialized expertise for businesses.
The spokes include the Arkansas Human Development Corporation, Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce, Central Arkansas Library System, East Arkansas Enterprise Community, Phoenix Youth and Family Services, and University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture Cooperative Extension Service.
One of the critical goals of the project is to increase the capacity to serve Spanish-speaking entrepreneurs in the state. ASBTDC has partnered with Martinez Agency, a creative and branding agency in Rogers, to create a marketing accelerator program for Spanish-speaking business owners.
“Our goal by the end of the project is to develop, communicate, and create a situation where Spanish-speaking entrepreneurs have access to all the resources and tools they need to start a business,” Singleton said.
About 35 Spanish-speaking entrepreneurs are participating in the accelerator program. They are learning about topics such as the importance of having a business website, how to sell products on Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok, and how to use digital tools to reach their customers.
“We wanted to create this marketing program because we knew it will help to support the Latino community and Spanish-speaking entrepreneurs and business owners,” Morales Ibarra said. “I like to be in direct contact with small business owners about what we can do to cover their needs. We want to help entrepreneurs cover all the ground they need to be successful.”
The Navigator team is working with the North Little Rock Chamber of Commerce and Conexión de Negocios Latinos to provide 15 workshop and training events for Spanish-speaking entrepreneurs across the state. A calendar of events is provided online.
The Arkansas Business Navigator Project is also recruiting students for paid positions in its eFellows program. The opportunity is open to juniors, seniors, and postgraduate students with at least a 3.0 GPA from any higher education institution within the University of Arkansas System. Bilingual and multilingual students are especially encouraged to apply via this online application.
They will work with expert business consultants as they advise and develop entrepreneurs from socioeconomically disadvantaged communities including women, minority, Spanish-speaking, rural, veteran, LGBTQ+, and disabled entrepreneurs. The eFellows assess the needs of small business owners and match them with resources in the Arkansas Business Navigator network as well as assist with training programs and outreach efforts.
The project is funded by a $2.5 million grant ASBTDC received through the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Community Navigator Pilot Program. Part of the American Rescue Plan initiative, the program is designed to reduce barriers that all small businesses, including those from underrepresented and underserved groups, often face in accessing critical support.
ASBTDC is one of 51 organizations that will receive a combined total of $100 million in funding through the Community Navigator Pilot Program. The organizations will work with hundreds of local groups to connect America’s entrepreneurs to government resources so they can recover and thrive. Cossatot Community College in De Queen is also a member of the Community Navigator Pilot Program.