The first Ark Tank, a startup pitch competition developed by Arkansas Tourism in partnership with Innovate Arkansas at Winrock International, concluded today after four finalists presented their business ideas at the 2019 Arkansas Governor’s Conference on Tourism held at the Hot Springs Convention Center. Presented by founder Corey Boelkens, RaftUp, a destination management software for outdoor recreation businesses, was named the winner and received a cash prize of $5,000, a guarantee for mentorship, and ongoing advisement with Innovate Arkansas and the Arkansas Tourism research and development section.
“Ark Tank was a great addition to our conference this year. The buzz that has been created among our attendees proves that the entrepreneurial energy from the competitors encouraged new ideas and new ways of thinking about business,” said Arkansas Tourism Director Jim Dailey. “After the event, we saw that every presenter was approached by conference attendees and had conversations about partnership opportunities.”
“We were excited to partner with Arkansas Tourism on the Ark Tank pitch competition,” said David Sanders, director of Innovate Arkansas. “Our hope is that from this event, each of the finalists makes connections that can help grow their businesses. Winrock and Innovate Arkansas’s team is dedicated to working with startup founders to grow their businesses in Arkansas and we look forward to working with more tourism-focused companies that contribute so much to the Arkansas economy.”
From over 20 applications received, four finalists were chosen to pitch to the judges and conference attendees. The competition criteria required that the presenting companies be a tourism-related business, defined as one that directly interacts with tourists, deals with businesses that cater to tourists, encourages tourism in and travel to Arkansas, and/or supports tourism-related activities in Arkansas. The three other finalists in the competition were:
- Kreadiv Nadiv Concepts LLC, presented by Travis Greenlee. Kreadiv Nadiv Concepts innovates, designs, builds, maintains, and restores trail systems, outdoor educational spaces, and recreational parks to create uniquely memorable user experiences highlighting natural landscapes while minimizing impact to wildlife.
- Nature Backs, presented by Bo Thomas and Morgan O’Neil. Nature Backs is a brand that inspires adventure through graphic t-shirts and “Flip-Trip” bracelets designed to encourage people to do what they are passionate about.
- Safe Rod, presented by Russell Evans. Safe Rod is a fishing rod holder that attaches to the garage door to prevent rods from getting damaged during storage.
Four guests were invited to hear the presentations, ask questions and judge the competition. The panel of judges included:
- Jim Shamburger, Owner of the Best Western Winners Circle – Hot Springs and member of Arkansas State Parks, Recreation, & Travel Commission
- Kalene Griffith, President/CEO of Visit Bentonville
- Amy Hopper, Program Officer at Winrock International and Delta I-Fund Manager
- Brad Henry, Vice President of Development Finance at Arkansas Development Finance Authority
The competition was also streamed live for people from all over Arkansas to watch and included an invitation for viewers to vote for a winner. The “audience favorite” winner from that voting will be announced later this week. The full competition can be watched on the Arkansas Tourism Industry Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/ArkansasTourismIndustry