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The Delta I-Fund™ is an early stage, proof-of-concept fund formed to capitalize and train entrepreneurs in the eight-state Delta Regional Authority territory. Each startup team accepted into the program will receive access to up to $50,000 in investment funding and complete 12 weeks of rigorous training alongside other startup teams. The Delta I-Fund is administered by the Innovation Hub at Winrock International, in partnership with entrepreneurial support organizations (“ESOs”) throughout the Delta region.

THE MISSION

The mission of the Delta I-Fund is to positively impact the low-to-moderate income communities throughout the Delta Regional Authority territory. The program provides access to early stage private investment capital, virtual training and mentorship to Delta entrepreneurs with innovative ideas. These resources provide the platform for the creation and launch of high-growth companies, spurring economic development and job creation in the region.

The Program

The Delta I-Fund will offer several 12-week cohorts. The fall 2017 program will begin September 9th in Arkansas.

The subsequent cohort will include the entire DRA region and will begin in February 3rd, 2018.

Each program, or cohort, will include approximately 15 teams. Each team must have at least two team members, and a minimum of three is preferable (single-founder companies are ineligible). It is recommended that teams have a balance of business and science-based backgrounds. An experienced mentor from the business community will be assigned to each team.

The types of ideas and startups targeted by the Delta I-Fund are those based on innovative business models including:

• Patented university research, including medical, biomedical, science, and engineering applications.
• Software and other IT-based platform solutions.
• Any other patented or proprietary technology or innovation which provides a competitive advantage.

If you are an entrepreneurial team searching for an innovative idea or technology to serve as the basis for your startup, please contact Amy Hopper at ahopper@arhub.org prior to applying. She will provide you with information on Delta technologies available for potential commercialization.

As for the stage of the company, the Delta I-Fund seeks very early stage ideas and companies that need validation, including pre-revenue startups, and entrepreneurs still in the ideation stage. Companies that are post-revenue and already positioned for angel and venture capital funding are likely to be too advanced in stage.

Entry into the Delta I-Fund will be competitive and based on the quality of the team’s application. An Investment Committee comprised of experienced, early stage investors will review the applications and also conduct video conference interviews with teams prior to selection. Upon admission to the Delta I-Fund, each team will receive up to $50,000 of investment based on the attainment of milestones during the program. All investments into each team will be made via a SAFE agreement, in which teams commit to issuing equity ownership to the Delta I-Fund if a company is launched, and at terms tied to a future financing round. Please learn more about the SAFE here

The structured training provided during the 12-week program is modeled after I-Corps™, a program formed by the National Science Foundation in 2011.  Over 800 teams nationally have been through I-Corps, and the curriculum is founded on the Lean LaunchPad™ entrepreneurial training developed by Steve Blank and Stanford University.  Entrepreneurs in the Delta I-Fund are taught to develop and document their proposed business model on a lean canvas, and then to test their hypotheses through a rigorous, 12-week customer discovery process.

The Value Proposition

  • Proof-of-concept funding is often one of the largest barriers young entrepreneurs face when attempting to launch a company. The Delta I-Fund provides both the capital and the training to enable entrepreneurs to make their ideas, research, and inventions a reality.
     
  • Mentorship is a critical component to the success of any early stage company. The Delta I-Fund, in coordination with its partner ESOs, identifies world-class mentors from the business community, and pays those mentors for their participation in the program. The mentor assigned to each team will participate in every facet of the program alongside the other team members, as a “coach on the field.” The 2016 Delta I-Fund cohort told us the mentorship received was as valuable as the investment and the curriculum.
     
  • The Delta I-Fund is administered virtually, with instruction provided by video conference. Additionally, customer interviews and instructional team meetings are scheduled around each team’s availability, ensuring flexibility with already demanding schedules.

2016 Class

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The inaugural cohort of the Delta I-Fund was conducted from September 10 through December 3, 2016. The eight participating teams were comprised of students from five universities. Those teams were:

  • Carbolytix, a patented bio battery that uses the electrical stimulation in the body’s blood flow to power pacemakers and other implantable devices.
  • Grox Industries, a patented system for graphene production to be used on glass coatings and other surfaces.
  • IntelliNexus, a patented system utilizing radio frequencies to enable communications among vehicles.
  • Knallhart AgriTech, a patented pump that recycles water used in irrigation systems, reducing water consumption, power and land use.
  • Rejuvenics, a patented technology for the dispersion and release of chemotherapy drugs that dramatically reduces side effects in the body.
  • SpaceFox, a web platform that connects providers of available office space (landlords and business owners) with those who need short-term office space (traveling workers, among others).
  • SurfaceMod, a patented scaffolding system that promotes cell adhesion and growth of human tissue.
  • TorOptic, a patented product that enables the administration of eye medications in vapor form.

By all measures, the 2016 program of the Delta I-Fund was successful, and the lessons learned form a strong basis for the expansion of the program into the eight-state Delta region. Each of the eight teams compressed a great deal of learning into the 12-week period, and made important pivots in their planned business models based on what they learned through customer discovery. Here’s what a few of the students had to say about their experiences:

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The focus on validating our problem hypothesis shaped our customer interview process. The ability to definitively confirm our assumptions in our target market is vital to operational success and will strengthen our platform to potential investors.”
— Andrew Miles, MBA candidate, Walton College of Business, UA
As a first-time entrepreneur, the I-Fund program was invaluable because it provided a framework that gave our team the ability to break down the process of commercialization into addressable steps. We were partnered with an amazing mentor who had successfully launched and exited a company in our industry. She worked with us every day and is still a great advisor and friend to our team.”
— Nathan Watson, Masters of Public Service and MBA Candidate, Walton College of Business, UA
The Delta I-Fund provided an excellent opportunity to pitch for equity investment worth a total of $50,000 at the earliest and highest risk stage of our startup. This seed funding was extremely helpful in getting us off the ground and to cover expenses such as setting up the LLC, traveling to meet with customers and experts, and attending business plan competitions.”
— Gurshagan Kandhola, MBA candidate, Walton College of Business, UA

Our Partners

The Delta region, made up of 252 counties and parishes in eight states, is one of the most historic, culturally rich parts of the country, yet daily life remains a struggle for many. The Delta Regional Authority (dra.gov) supports job creation and improves quality of life through strategic economic development investments in the Delta region's communities, families, and businesses.

IBERIABANK has provided the essential investment capital for the Delta I-Fund to make investments in our teams. Their commitment to entrepreneurship and economic development is pivotal to our efforts. Learn more here.
        
The Delta I-Fund has partnered with the above entrepreneurial support organizations, or “ESOs”, located throughout the Delta region. Through these ESOs, the Delta I-Fund is able to recruit top entrepreneurs, mentors and sponsors into the program. Learn more about how each ESO is committed to advancing entrepreneurship by clicking on its logo.

The BALSA Group is a collection of high-achieving graduate students, post-doc researchers and young professionals who consult with early stage companies to help solve real business and scientific problems. They bring their knowledge, resources and network for the benefit of Delta I-Fund teams. See more details here.

The Delta I-Fund targets entrepreneurs with innovative business models in the Delta region. The program was made possible by a grant awarded by the DRA. See more details here.

Delta I-fund director, Jeff Stinson

Mr. Stinson is currently the Director of Entrepreneurship at the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub.  In this capacity, he develops and administers entrepreneurial programs and resources, including industry-based accelerators and the Delta I-Fund.

In parallel, Mr. Stinson is also Executive Director of the Fund for Arkansas’ Future, an “angel” investor fund that invests in early stage, Arkansas-based companies.  Now investing from its second fund, the two funds combined have 100 individual investors - representing some of Arkansas’ most distinguished business and community leaders – and investments in over 30 technology based businesses.  The fund seeks companies with innovative business models and the ability to grow rapidly.  Mr. Stinson helped to organize and structure the first fund in 2004, and has led the administration of both funds since that time.

Mr. Stinson began his career in 1990 as a CPA with the Nashville, Tennessee, office of a Big 5 public accounting firm, representing clients in the health care, banking, manufacturing, and printing and publishing industries. Subsequently, in his role as director of marketing for a large, publicly traded health care organization, he was instrumental in developing strategic plans for individual business units to position those units for long-term success.

After obtaining his MBA, with honors, from the Owen School of Management at Vanderbilt University, he moved to Little Rock in 1999 and has worked extensively in the private equity markets.  In 2001, he launched and developed his own successful business advisory practice, representing clients in the retail, real estate, and private equity industries.

His past board service includes President of the Board of Directors for Youth Home, Inc., Commissioner on the Little Rock Sister Cities Commission, Little Rock Sister Cities Foundation Board, Arkansas Motion Picture Institute, Advisory Board for TechPreneur, Arkansas Venture Forum Committee, and volunteer for Easter Seals Arkansas, American Cancer Society, Our House, Vision Little Rock, and the Governor’s Cup student business plan competition.  He has been a mentor for the ARK Challenge business accelerator, and volunteer speaker for Arkansas Scholars and Volunteers in Public Schools.  He is a graduate of Leadership Greater Little Rock, Class XVI, and was a 2006 Arkansas Business “40 Under 40” honoree.

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Delta I-fund manager, Amy Hopper

Amy Hopper joined the Hub as the Delta I-Fund manager in April of 2017. In this role, she guides and collaborates with the I-Fund's entrepreneurial support organizations to recruit and select startup teams, mentors and investors in the Delta region. She also helps develop program curriculum and manages the operational aspects of the Delta I-Fund.

Ms. Hopper received her bachelor’s degree in finance from the University of Oklahoma. While at OU, she interned with the Norman Chamber of Commerce and was a member of the President’s Leadership Class. After graduating from OU, she began her career in Wichita, Kansas at INVISTA, an integrated producer of polymers and fibers. During her time in Wichita, she served as the campus lead for Koch College Recruiting at OU and as an outreach troop leader for the Girl Scouts of Kansas Heartland.

From 2015 to July 2017, Ms. Hopper worked for INVISTA and Newell Brands in Atlanta, Georgia. She was a mentor through Destiny’s Daughters of Promise and a member of the Junior League of Atlanta. She and her fiancé relocated to Little Rock in July of 2017.

 

For the spring 2018 cohort, be sure to submit your application by Sunday, December 31st, 2017!

contact

For all questions related to the Delta I-Fund, please contact Amy Hopper at ahopper@arhub.org.