For Red Clay, Innovate Arkansas Was An Instant Plug Into Arkansas' Entrepreneurial Ecosystem
When entrepreneur Abigail Kiefer moved from San Francisco to Bentonville to start a business, she was drawn by the retail knowledge and expertise that exists in Northwest Arkansas, home to the world's largest retailer, Walmart. What she didn't expect was a community of fellow entrepreneurs who would enthusiastically advise her and her growing team towards entrepreneurial success.
Innovate Arkansas, Kiefer says, was immediately helpful once she became a client, which was about six months into the founding of her venture. "Innovate Arkansas was an instant plug into what was going on in the venture and entrepreneurship ecosystem in Arkansas," says Kiefer. "From the minute we were an Innovate Arkansas client, we were plugged into the right network of people."
A Strategic Pivot
Founded in 2011, Red Clay was initially developed as a home decor brand that leveraged a curated panel of designers and crowdsourced consumer opinions to understand and produce for ever-changing consumer needs. About two years in, though, Red Clay realized that the technology it had produced to manage consumer and designer conversations was the center of its unique value proposition.
Industry leaders in the home decor space began contacting Kiefer and her team to ask how they were updating their product lines so fast -- that's when the team's focus shifted from product production to product design facilitation. In 2013, Red Clay evolved into a technology platform that connects makers and brands who have product ideas to industrial designers who can help them take their products from ideas to manufacturer-ready drawings.
Early in that pivot, Innovate Arkansas assisted Red Clay in the ins and outs of founding a startup. "We were new to the region, and we were new to startups. For all four founders, it was our first venture. Whenever we'd have a question about who had encountered the issues we were facing, we'd turn to Innovate Arkansas -- whether that was 'How do you build a financial model?' or 'How do we raise money?' Innovate Arkansas' team was a great sounding board and a great place to start with our questions."
Connections To Capital
Early on, Kiefer worked heavily with former Innovate Arkansas advisor Jeff Amerine, founding principal of Startup Junkie Consulting, who was instrumental in connecting Red Clay to funding opportunities in Arkansas. He connected Kiefer to the Fund for Arkansas' Future and Gravity Ventures, both of which were early investors in Red Clay, resulting in the nearly $200,000 in initial capital the startup raised. Amerine, too, ended up sitting on Red Clay's board.
"Meeting Jeff and being able to connect with him and to Innovate Arkansas has fundamentally changed our organization for the better," Kiefer says.
Staying Connected To Arkansas
Red Clay is no longer headquartered in Bentonville -- it has since moved to San Francisco, where Kiefer and her husband had previously lived. Attracted out west for the accelerated growth potential and deeper tech talent pool, the company left Arkansas, but still has strong roots here. Kiefer says she's often back in the Natural State to visit customers and tap into the retail knowledge base:
"Though I wish it were more, I'm in Arkansas at least once a quarter to check in on customers we have there and to check into the crazy, growing entrepreneurship scene that's growing and coming up all around retail technology. Northwest Arkansas holds the highest concentration of folks who are relevant to us."
Kiefer says that she feels forever connected to Innovate Arkansas, even though Red Clay is no longer based in Arkansas. "I feel like once you're an Innovate Arkansas client, you're always an Innovate Arkansas client," Kiefer says. "If I needed to call up Tom [Dalton, Director of Innovate Arkansas] to ask him a question or get suggestions on who I should talk to to solve a problem, I'm confident that he would not only answer my call, but then would also be really helpful and provide me with some sort of answer that would push the conversation forward."
As Red Clay pushes into the future, pursuing business sustainability, extended relationships with its current strategic partners, and continued product design innovation, Kiefer says she knows Innovate Arkansas will be there if and when she needs the help. "It's something that's always in my back pocket," she says.