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. Arkansas Capital sought to establish a system which builds a pipeline of entrepreneurial thinking and talent from as early as grade school all the way through graduate school.
Arkansas Capital initiated this mission at the postsecondary level by creating a new business plan competition through its Arkansas Economic Acceleration Foundation (AEAF) affiliate, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation. The intent of the competition was not only to promote entrepreneurship, but also send a message to college and university students, faculty, administrators, teachers, and all of Arkansas that resources to succeed in business are here at home.
Arkansas Capital and AEAF debuted the “Governor’s Award for Entrepreneurial Development” in 2001.
Competitors are challenged to generate a business idea for a product or service that is new to the marketplace — or one that is a significant innovation to an existing product. Participants then take the idea through a rigorous, real-world process of business planning that includes determining marketing, management, and other strategies; identifying and addressing critical risks; and outlining cash flow, income, and projected budgets. The business plans are judged in both written and oral rounds of competition by business and community leaders from across Arkansas.
The competition culminates in a first-class annual awards event that recognizes the competitors and celebrates the rich history of entrepreneurship in Arkansas and its contribution to the state.
In 2005, 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. Beginning in 2006, 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.
The Donald W. Reynolds Governor’s Cup continues to be a major catalyst in the evolution and development of today’s entrepreneurial revolution in Arkansas.
After high school, the young Mr. Reynolds decided that he wanted to attend the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism. To pay for his studies, he worked during high school and over several summers at a meat packing plant in Oklahoma City. He graduated from the University in 1927.
Mr. Reynolds’ first business venture after his graduation was a photo engraving plant. With $1,000 in capital (part of which he borrowed), he invested a photo engraving plant. Using profits from this venture, he purchased and then sold his first newspaper — the Quincy Evening News (Massachusetts). Using proceeds from that sale, he purchased the Okmulgee Daily Times (Oklahoma) and the Southwest Times Record (Arkansas), the two publications that launched the Donrey Media Group.
The Donrey Media Group operated mostly in small communities. Throughout his life, Mr. Reynolds continually expanded his business enterprise, ultimately owning more than 100 businesses, including newspapers, radio stations, television stations, cable television operations, and billboard companies. The Donrey Media Group became one of the nation’s largest privately held media companies.
Upon his death in 1993, Donrey Media Group was sold. As a bequest from Mr. Reynolds’ estate, the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation, which he created in 1954, received a substantial endowment. Since his business acumen was focused on businesses located in small but growth-oriented communities, these communities were often the recipients of the Foundation’s earliest charitable grants.
The Donald W. Reynolds Foundation continues his legacy of charitable giving and it is from this foundation that a multi-million dollar grant was awarded to the Arkansas Economic Acceleration Foundation (AEAF) in 2004 to promote entrepreneurship education within the states of Arkansas, Nevada, and Oklahoma through the Donald W. Reynolds Governor’s Cup Collegiate Business Plan competitions in each state, and, beginning in 2008, the Tri-State competition.