MBJ: New Delta fund offers $50,000 to would-be entrepreneurs
A new fund aims to provide local entrepreneurs with the same sort of resources they would have in hot spots such as Boston, New York or San Francisco.
The Delta Regional Authority (DRA) and Winrock International have joined forces to launch a multimillion-dollar investment fund targeting early stage entrepreneurs in eight states.
The goal of the Delta I-Fund is to provide entrepreneurs in the Mississippi Delta region the same sort of access to capital, resources, mentors, investors and technical assistance that they would receive in larger markets.
“This is about creating more jobs and business opportunities in our region of the country,” said DRA federal co-chairman Chris Masingill.
Jeff Stinson, director of entrepreneurship for Winrock International’s Innovation Hub, developed the idea of the Delta I-Fund and partnered with the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration to make it a reality.
Stinson said that half of the Delta I-Fund’s first teams launched into real companies, with most centered around patented technology.
The I-Fund, which will include a $1 million investment from the DRA, follows a $1 million investment from Iberia Bank. Stinson said he hopes to significantly expand the fund with other partners.
The program offers staged investments for teams, including an initial $5,000; then $20,000 midway through the 12-week program; then $25,000 after the company meets specific milestones and launches. The money is to be used to develop the business idea, product, service or technology; for travel for customer discovery and for developing product prototypes.
The I-Fund will expand from Arkansas to recruit new entrepreneurs from the 50 universities and colleges in the DRA region states of Alabama, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee. Recruitment will also happen by way of incubators, accelerators and other entrepreneurship support organizations.
Stinson said he hopes to launch 20-25 teams between two parallel cohorts next fall.
“We see that growing over time,” he added.
Created by Congress in 2000, the DRA works to foster local and regional partnerships that address economic and social challenges to strengthen the Delta economy. The DRA also operates a small business and entrepreneurship network, a fellowship program to identify entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship support organizations and help those entrepreneurs evolve.