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Delta Center Awarded $500,000 Grant from Federal EDA


JONESBORO – Arkansas State University received a federal grant to create the East Arkansas Regional Innovation System (EARIS).

Under the i6 Challenge program, A-State's Delta Center for Economic Development submitted a successful application for $500,000 to help establish the EARIS.

“We are thrilled to be the first Economic Development Administration i6 Challenge recipient in the State of Arkansas.  The EARIS project is a perfect example of how collaborative partnerships and leveraged dollars can produce enormous regional impact," stated Delta Center Executive Director Shawnie Carrier.  "Heather Clark, Delta Center deputy director, was instrumental in facilitating the project partners from vision to design and writing the grant that would ultimately end in an award for East Arkansas.  Heather will oversee project implementation for the Delta Center and we excited to work together alongside our partners and bring this level of innovation to Jonesboro and East Arkansas.”

A-State will utilize i6 funds and matching to leverage local, state, and federal partnerships and for EARIS's creation and launch.  Combined with $$886,967 in in-kind matching, A-State's i6 project has $1.39 million in total support.

The goal for EARIS, a collaborative regional partnership, is to meet two identified needs of the region: coordination and streamlining of support services and resources for entrepreneurs and inventors via the Proof of Concept Center (POCC) Regional Innovation Hub, and fostering opportunities for innovation and entrepreneurship in rural east Arkansas communities.

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker today announced 25 awardees will receive $10 million under the Economic Development Administration’s (EDA) 2015 Regional Innovation Strategies (RIS) program.

The 2015 RIS program, managed by EDA’s Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship (OIE), advances innovation and capacity-building activities in regions across the country through two competitions: the i6 Challenge and the Seed Fund Support (SFS) Grants.

“As the driving force behind the Administration’s focus on entrepreneurship, the Department of Commerce is committed to helping set the conditions for innovators and entrepreneurs to test new ideas, take risks, find financing and customers, and ultimately thrive,” said Secretary Pritzker. “The Regional Innovation Strategies (RIS) program is critical to ensuring that entrepreneurs have access to the tools they need to move their ideas and inventions from idea to market.”

Led by the Delta Center for Economic Development, this system is expected to produce increased job creation and retention through business start-ups, support for entrepreneurs, and development of commercialized products within one of the poorest and underserved regions in the U.S. 

While all of the partners' contributions are vital to the project's success, the Delta Center representatives emphasized the extraordinary contribution to the project from Ritter Communications, which has committed  $266,000 in in-kind support through equipment and services for the Proof of Concept Center, where the makers-space and co-work space will be located.

Other partners in the project include the A-State Catalyst Center, ASU-Newport Catalyst, East Arkansas Planning & Development District (EAPDD), Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub, Arkansas Economic Development Commission Manufacturing Solutions (AEDC-MS), Ritter Communications, Forge Arkansas,  Jonesboro Regional Chamber of Commerce, Accelerate Jonesboro (Angel Investors), A-State Small Business Technology Development Center, and the Delta Regional Authority.

“Technology business incubators are proven successes in other communities. We’re happy to support a program like this that enables innovators and entrepreneurs in rural eastern Arkansas to expand and grow," stated Alan Morse, president of Ritter Communications. "We’re a local company, and part of our mission is giving back to the communities we serve. We appreciate Arkansas State University’s leadership and vision for the East Arkansas Regional Innovation System, and we’re honored to be a part of the large group of local entities that have all worked hard to make it happen.”

While the Northeast Arkansas region as a whole should benefit, the project should have its most pronounced impact in the five counties where EARIS will focus its efforts.

The POCC Regional Innovation Hub will be located in downtown Jonesboro.  Commercialization centers will be based on the A-State campus, at the ASU-Newport campus near the Jonesboro industrial park, and in satellite hubs in Crittenden, Lawrence, Mississippi and St. Francis Counties.  The locations were determined by need and economic development strategies identified by stakeholders during the long range economic development planning project funded by the federal Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Sustainable Communities Program.

i6 Challenge

The i6 Challenge, launched in 2010 as part of the Startup America Initiative, is now in its fifth iteration. The i6 Challenge is a national competition that makes small, targeted, high-impact investments to support startup creation, innovation, and help turn technology into jobs. The funding supports the development and expansion of new and existing Proof-of-Concept and Commercialization Centers, which help innovators fine tune and scale their innovations to bring new products and services to the market.

Applications were evaluated in part on the strength of their specific outreach plans to populations and communities that are underrepresented in innovation and entrepreneurship and on specific, quantitative metrics to measure the effectiveness of that outreach.

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