Exploring Entrepreneurship with Sarah Goforth, executive director of the UA's Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation

Episode 2 December 29, 2023 00:22:02
Exploring Entrepreneurship with Sarah Goforth, executive director of the UA's Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation
Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
Exploring Entrepreneurship with Sarah Goforth, executive director of the UA's Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation

Dec 29 2023 | 00:22:02

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Hosted By

Dave Perozek

Show Notes

Today’s Know the News podcast features a chat with Sarah Goforth, executive director of the University of Arkansas' Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

Goforth will be featured by April Wallace in the Profile section's cover story in the Sunday, Dec. 31, 2023, edition of the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

For more information on UA's entrepreneurship program visit: entrepreneurship.uark.edu

View Full Transcript

Episode Transcript

[00:00:00] Speaker A: Hi, everyone. This is Greg Harton, editorial page editor of the Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette and host of this week's know the news podcast. You know, entrepreneurship sounds relatively simple, set up a business and position it for success. But it involves risk, which is something a lot of people aren't exactly comfortable with. On today's Know the news podcast, I'll visit with a major component of the University of Arkansas's entrepreneurship education and assistance ecosystem. Back in a second. Sarah Goforth is the executive director of the University of Arkansas's office of Entrepreneurship and innovation. She's featured this Sunday, December 31, on the COVID of northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette's profile section. The story describes her growing up in Strickler, a rural area of Washington county, and a career that's taken her from an education in biology to newsrooms to a role at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History. Today, she's advancing entrepreneurship through a collection of programs at the University of Arkansas's Fayetteville campus. So, Sarah, thanks for joining us today. [00:01:22] Speaker B: Thank you so much for having me. [00:01:24] Speaker A: So this is going to get really simple, probably from your perspective, but let's just lay a foundation for your work. What does entrepreneurship mean to you? [00:01:37] Speaker B: I love it. People ask that question because to me, it's so much more than about starting a business. It's about thinking with a mindset that allows you to see problems as opportunities and allows you to create new ways of doing things and have the confidence to know that if the environment you're in is disrupted by a new technology or changing economic circumstances, whatever it may be, that you can use that as a way of innovating. And so thinking like an entrepreneur matters if you're working inside a big company or a university, as I do, just as much as it matters if you have the ambition of starting a small business of your own, it's a very empowering skill. [00:02:23] Speaker A: So I'm in the newspaper business, which has had a little bit of disruption over the last few years, and it can seem, I think it's kind of human nature to get frustrated when things rock the boat. When you're sailing along comfortably and all of a sudden it almost seems like your boat runs aground. Are you saying that entrepreneurs kind of thrive on that sort of environment? When I think a lot of people I know, they do everything they can to avoid those sorts of problems. [00:03:05] Speaker B: Yeah, you're exactly right. And honestly, that is the culture that I think sometimes people can become addicted to. It's culture of entrepreneurship. It's fun because when you're in this environment where the boat is rocking and you see, oh my gosh, this is not a scary moment. This is not a threat. This is an opportunity to change what we do and be faster at that than other organizations. And if you think back to the way newsrooms were 20 years ago when I was in journalism, or I guess 22, 23 years ago, there was a lot of assumption that the economic model, that advertisers would fund the print newspaper indefinitely and it would allow people to maintain the wall between editorial and advertising and all of that, those systems were unbreachable, that they would always exist. And so when the Internet started to compete for the attention of the readers and the dollars of the advertisers, there were those newsrooms that sort of locked down and ignored that happening and thought, okay, that's some of their domain, and the people who are digitally skilled and digitally native will deal with that. But we're a print newspaper. We're going to do things the way that we always have done. They didn't survive. And the newsrooms and the papers and the organizations that saw what was coming and said, hey, we can learn that skill set. It's not rocket science. We can hire people who know how to code websites and HTML and can create podcasts like the one you're doing now. The papers that were first out of the gate doing those things are thriving economically. And the same is true of all organizations. If you look at Walmart in our very backyard, biggest company in the world, every day facing threats from the emergence of new technologies and new businesses trying to steal market share away from them. But there are people within that company who every day see those threats and try to be faster, try to be the ones who can first invent the new product or service or way of serving their customers. And that's how the company has survived and grown all these years. And when you get the hang of it, and it really is about embracing the risk that an experiment that you try won't work out perfectly the first time. And the ability to learn quickly from what didn't work and adapt and adjust over time, that's the skill. When you develop that skill, it is such a confidence builder, and you are attracted often to other people who have that same sort of superhero ability. And that's what keeps entrepreneurial communities so tight. [00:05:38] Speaker A: So tell me a little bit about how you tackle entrepreneurship through the University of Arkansas. I heard a little bit about you going on the prowl around campus looking for non business students to kind of bring into the entrepreneurial world. Tell me a little bit about kind of your personal approach to that, but also, what is it that your particular office is doing? And it sounds like it's doing a lot just based on visiting the website. But tell me a little bit about that side of it. [00:06:16] Speaker B: We definitely stay busy. Our mission is to provide both transformational experiences for students and entrepreneurs in the community so that they have these moments of confidence building and skill development, but also a layer of foundational support that is available to anyone at any time who wants to either dip a toe in and understand what it is to be an entrepreneur or go full on, start a business, turn a technology into a product that could really change the world. We offer both sets of things, and so to do that well, we have to create interdisciplinary environments. And we passionately believe that entrepreneurship is a skill set. Like, it's a fundamental skill set that no student should graduate without having. So we want to reach all of them. And having been a non business student myself, I mean, I would say when I was in college, I was a little bit allergic to business. It just didn't seem interesting to me. I was a biology student. I loved the natural world. I love exploration and discovery. And I thought, I don't know why anybody would ever major in accounting. I couldn't fathom it. But it became necessary for me, as it does for everyone who grows in their careers, to understand the economics of the industries I was working in, to understand, ultimately, how to start a company of my own. When the job market in journalism fell through, or at least in science journalism, what I was working in, I had to understand how to create opportunities of my own, and I had to learn business the hard way. So I would say one of my greatest passions inside the university is finding the biology students, the journalism students, the art students, the chemists, the physicists, the philosophy students, all of whom could benefit from the skills, the network relationships, and access to the tools that allow them to create their own jobs to solve problems they care about, to have resiliency in an uncertain economic future. I'm just really passionate about that. So I think the hardest part about that is helping them see that entrepreneurship is not just about making money. It's not just about, okay, I'm going to create a business. It is about that. It can be about that. But that's not all it is helping them see that. It's also about solving problems they care about. And Gen Z is a very passionate generation. They've lived through some really tough things. A lot of school shootings when they were some of the worst school shootings in our country's history when they were young and they lived through the pandemic and are facing the challenges associated with climate change and economic disparity, so many things. And they're passionate about addressing those problems with their careers. And being an entrepreneur is a vehicle, and it gives you the skill of leveraging the power of the market to solve problems you care about. And when I'm able to, or my team is able to help them see that it's exciting. And that's honestly how our community of student entrepreneurs has grown, is by unlocking the viewpoint that entrepreneurship is about solving problems at its core. [00:09:18] Speaker A: So you also do some programs that are, I guess, considered kind of outreach type of programs beyond the campus of the university, is that right? [00:09:29] Speaker B: Oh, yes. We take our land grant mission very seriously, and our strength is serving early stage entrepreneurs, because we are educators. So people who are at the idea stage or getting their business off the ground, but we have multiple business incubators that serve the wider community. Those are sector specific. So we have a business incubator in outdoor recreation, for example. For any entrepreneur with an idea in that space is eligible for that. We have an accelerator program for startup companies that are working at the intersection of emerging tech. So think artificial intelligence, machine learning, augmented reality at the intersection of emerging tech and retail, or supply chain. And then we have a healthcare focused incubator that pairs. And I love this program, pairs clinicians working in healthcare organizations across northwest Arkansas with entrepreneurs and student engineers. And they get in a room together, identify healthcare problems that maybe the surgeon is facing, or a patient's facing, or could be an intake specialist at a hospital is facing. They catalog the problems and then assess which of those are most widely felt. And then they invent solutions together, medical devices, software tools, that kind of thing. And so we do a lot of work in the broader community and across the state, too. [00:10:48] Speaker A: So everybody sort of, I think, dreams of coming up with an idea, the next great thing, or writing the great american novel or something that kind of breaks new ground. And I think a lot of people think of entrepreneurs as people who are kind of born that way, not something that you learn, because I think we all know entrepreneurs, that they're just good at it. They just thrive in that environment. How much of this is just innate quality versus learned skill? [00:11:31] Speaker B: Yeah, I honestly don't subscribe to that theory. I think it's in everybody. And I think the thing that some people have access to and other people don't, and we try to create this access is a community of people who can help you do it, who can help you evaluate your idea, show you the ropes, understand where the pitfalls are, introduce you to people who could be your business partners or your mentors or your board of advisors members. A lot of people do not have access to those communities. And for that reason, it seems like some people are just born into the world of entrepreneurship, but often it's because they had access to all of that. When you gain that access, it builds confidence. And when you survive your first failure and you fall back into this safety net of your entrepreneurial community, that also is something that allows you to see, okay, I can do this. And if it doesn't work, I'll be fine because I can pick up and move on with my next thing. I really do think it's within all of us. Some people, and I would put myself in this category, learn it the hard way, because they have to create a business, because they've lost their job or their industry was disrupted and they just didn't have a choice. That's called necessity. Entrepreneurship. I was stubbornly fixated on science, communication, and when I couldn't get a job in a newspaper, I just kept going until I found the clients and found the gigs. And it wasn't because I had any kind of business confidence at all. I had none. I had to Google, like, what is an llc? I had no idea what I was doing. But once I got that first check from my first customer doing the thing that I loved, it was just so empowering. And my goal is to show anyone with an interest that moment of empowerment, and I think anyone can access it. I'm sure you have a ton of ideas that you should get out of your head and onto a absolutely. [00:13:29] Speaker A: Absolutely. My guest on know the news is Sarah Goforth. I'll be back in just a moment with a few more minutes of my interview. [00:13:37] Speaker C: If you're enjoying this podcast, consider a newspaper subscription to the northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette or the River Valley Democrat Gazette. We have a special offer for our podcast listeners, so visit nwanline.com podcast 23 to get started. You can also click the subscribe button on our websites, nwanline.com and river valleydemocratgazette.com. Or call us at 479-684-5509 and be sure to say that you're a podcast listener. Now back to the show. [00:14:08] Speaker A: So here we are talking about entrepreneurship. Can you give me an idea of what's the condition or what's the state of entrepreneurship in Arkansas? [00:14:20] Speaker B: Oh, my goodness. It's growing so fast, it's hard to capture it in words. But for those who have been working in this space for years, we've all seen, I think, especially since the pandemic, this incredible snowball effect of the entrepreneurial community. And it wasn't organic necessarily. There have been people who have been trying to build this community for decades in this space, and they laid the foundation. So I think about people like Jeff Amarine, the founder of startup Junkie, and Jerry Adams, founder of Arkansas Research alliance, and James Hendron, and investor in Little Rock who started the venture center. And there are people who laid a foundation without which we would not have an entrepreneurial community. But in the past five years, that foundation has really turned into one of the fastest growing entrepreneurial communities in the country. And there are data points that help us understand that this is real and not just something we're observing. So, for example, my office does an annual report called the Arkansas Capital scan that assesses inflows of venture capital and other sources of funding to startups across the whole state. And since 2020, there has been a downward trend in venture capital. But in Arkansas, we've gone from something like $16 million of venture capital in total in $2020 to $270,000,000 of venture capital flowing into the state in 2022. That's incredible growth. And if you compare us to some other states of take Utah, for example, where Utah has a lot of billion dollar unicorn companies and has one of the largest entrepreneurial communities, we're still not really scratching the surface of where they are. But in terms of pace of growth, I think you won't find any other place like Arkansas. [00:16:15] Speaker A: So I think we've talked about this in a way that perhaps has wetted the appetite of some people listening out there to perhaps learn more, you've mentioned that you're not just about the students at the campus, but that you kind of reach out and connect with other people throughout the state who are interested in entrepreneurship. So somebody listening to this podcast, if they had an interest in what it is that you all are doing at the university and how they can perhaps benefit from it or contribute to it, what should be their first step? [00:16:57] Speaker B: Their first step should be to visit our site. Our site is entrepreneurship urc.edu and sign up for. There's an email newsletter. You can click a link and sign on, and we send out regular updates about programs and opportunities. If you're a member of the business community and you maybe have never been an entrepreneur, and you think maybe the space isn't for you, but you're curious and you want to get involved. There are two great ways to get involved today and we need you. One is as a mentor. So entrepreneurs don't only need other entrepreneurs as mentors, they need people who work inside the industries that represent their customer base. So retail, CPG, for example, the entrepreneurs who are creating new software solutions to create efficiencies in the supply chain, they need to work with supply chain, have mentorship from supply chain experts inside those companies. Secondly, if you're a person of means and you have the ability to qualify as an accredited investor, which is getting easier, you have to have a certain amount of economic wealth to be able to do that. Jump in as an angel investors angel investors are community of people who are supportive of entrepreneurs at the earliest stages, who are people who are working in these high risk, high reward spaces that require early stage capital to take all the risk to see if their new technology or innovation can make it into the market. And being an angel investor is one of the best ways to learn about being an entrepreneur because you get access and exposure to all of these innovative new ideas and ways of doing things, and it's just a really fun community. So those are two ways to jump in. But there are many others. And if you are a person with an idea seeking resources, our website can help you. I would also highly recommend if you're serious about starting a company and you're ready to do that, I would recommend consulting with the Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development center. They have offices around the state and their services are free and world class. Can help you with everything from marketing to business model development to legal and everything in between. [00:19:01] Speaker A: Well, I really appreciate you being with us today and sharing a bit of your world with us and certainly hope you have a happy new year. [00:19:11] Speaker B: Thank you so much. Happy New Year to you and your listeners as well. [00:19:15] Speaker A: My thanks to Sarah Goforth for joining us on today's podcast. As I mentioned, you can learn much more about Sarah's journey in this Sunday's edition of the Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette in a profile by our April Wallace. We're coming up on New Year's Eve this weekend. So happy new year to everyone. After you've had a chance to check out that profile on Sarah, you'll also find other coverage in the northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette, such as Stacey Roburn's going to explain more about agreements between the city councils in Fayetteville and Springdale, and the Federal Railroad Administration to close some railroad crossings in those cities and improve the safety features of others Stacey's also going to look at an analysis of street pavement conditions in Fayetteville that was started five years ago to prioritize where the city needs to focus its paving repairs and other maintenance. Is a street that you use on a list of upcoming projects? Check out Stacey's story. In Bentonville, city officials are gearing up to implement a new business registry they say will help keep city departments like the fire department, police planning, water and sewer informed about the always changing landscape of Bentonville's business community. Mike Jones will have that story. Tuesday's outdoor section takes a look at Fayetteville's Centennial park, where novice mountain bikers can build up their experience in a park that's also been used by some of the world's top Olympic class riders. An outdoors editor flip put off on Tuesday will offer a recommendation for a unique New Year's resolution. Pick an Arkansas state park and hike every mile of the trails that it offers in the coming year. Thomas Cicente offers a profile of Tom Hughes, the new sheriff of Johnson county appointed by the quorum court to finish out the term of Jimmy Stevens. Stevens was forced to resign earlier after a felony conviction for drug possession. And finally, in the Sunday what's Up section, Monica Hooper visits with the resident director for the north american tour of Le Miserable or Le Miserable. I've debated exactly how that's pronounced. That starts its run at the Walton Arts center in Fayetteville on January 2. That's it for this edition of know the news. I'm Greg Hartin, and I hope to see you in 2024.

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