Since 1957, Arkansas Capital Corporation has recognized that entrepreneurs and small businesses are critical forces in Arkansas’s economy. Arkansas Capital believes Arkansas has remarkable talent and works to empower the state’s entrepreneurs.
Over the last 60 years, and, in partnership with Arkansas banks, government agencies, and other economic development stakeholders, Arkansas Capital has deployed well over $1.7 billion dollars of capital into the state’s entrepreneurial and small business sectors.
As Arkansas Capital has worked to finance these types of projects over its history, it realized that more needed to be done to educate Arkansas’s next generation of entrepreneurs. The company felt the state needed a system that would create a pipeline of entrepreneurial thinking and talent – beginning at the grade school level. In 1999, Arkansas Capital established a new 501(c)(3) affiliate, the Arkansas Economic Acceleration Foundation (AEAF).
At about the same time, the Arkansas Small Business Technology Development Center (SBDTC) had just hosted a statewide business competition. There were no cash prize awards and competitors were mostly from universities where SBTDCs were located. Arkansas Capital Corporation approached the SBTDC about adoption the competition through AEAF, with intent to secure sponsors and volunteer judges to ensure the competition continued as a real-world and meaningful entrepreneurial education opportunity for Arkansas college students. The competition would culminate in a first-class awards event with two purposes – to celebrate Arkansas’s rich entrepreneurial history and showcase the next-generation entrepreneurial talent in the state’s colleges and universities.
The “Governor’s Award for Entrepreneurial Development” was launched in 2001.
THE NUMBERS SINCE 2001
More than 2,500 students from 20 of the state’s two- and four-year colleges and universities have competed by submitting 839 business plans to the competition.
Winning teams and their faculty advisors have been awarded more than $2.05 million in cash prizes. Winners can spend cash prizes at their own discretion. They are rewarded for the educational experience they gained in the competition.
Sponsors from Arkansas’s business and education sectors have invested more than $2.77 million in the competition.
Arkansas Capital and AEAF have invested in the Governor’s Cup by providing staff, office space, and other administrative resources to the competition.
Approximately 900 Arkansans from the business, education, civic, and nonprofit sectors have volunteered as judges in the preliminary written and semi-finalist / finalist oral presentation rounds of the competition.
In 2004, the success of the Governor’s Award caught the attention of the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation, resulting in the foundation’s award of a multi-million dollar grant to AEAF to establish similar competitions in Nevada and Oklahoma, and to fund the cash prize awards for all three competitions for 10 years. Each state event was renamed to become the “Donald W. Reynolds Collegiate Business Plan Competition.” The foundation grant provides an annual cash prize pool of $154,000 each for all three states’ winners.
The Reynolds Foundation extended its investment with another grant to begin the new Donald W. Reynolds Tri-State Business Plan Competition in 2008. This competition is an opportunity for the first and second place graduate and undergraduate winners from each state’s competitions to travel to the foundation’s home city of Las Vegas, Nev., to compete for a cash prize pool of $118,000. The grant also provides travel stipends, lodging, and meals for all competitors and faculty advisors.
In May 2013, the Reynolds Foundation chose to bestow another grant to AEAF to honor C. Sam Walls, now retired as CEO of Arkansas Capital, for his extensive contributions to entrepreneurship in Arkansas. Sam was the visionary for the Donald W. Reynolds Governor’s Cup competition and new business plan competitions that began in 2005 for the state’s 5th–12th grade students, the Youth Entrepreneur Showcase (Y.E.S.) and Y.E.S. 2.0, both of which continue today.
The C. Sam Walls Entrepreneur Educator Award honors two college and university educators who exhibit exemplary leadership in promoting entrepreneurial education at their higher education institutions. Each receives a $2,500 cash prize along with $2,500 awarded to their respective academic institutions for use in furthering entrepreneurial education. The first awards were presented during the 2014 Donald W. Reynolds Governor’s Cup Awards Luncheon and will be presented annually through 2018.
Competitors emphasize that their Donald W. Reynolds Governor’s Cup experiences honed their educational and professional talents to develop comprehensive business plans, resulting in a number of Arkansas companies tracing their roots to the competition. Students who did not advance in the competition, or who did not proceed with their business ideas, report a better appreciation for the entrepreneurial process and have applied what they learned in their professional careers at businesses throughout the state and the country.
Competitors, faculty advisors, and their institutions receive statewide publicity and ongoing recognition throughout the competition process and at the awards luncheon, which is attended by an average of 800 sponsors and supporters each year. Win or lose, all competitors have a new story to tell as they pursue employment and have interviews with prospective employers. They also realize greater networking opportunities and new relationships throughout their competition experience.