The Delta Regional Authority has donated $1 million toward the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub’s I-Fund, a funding and training program for small businesses started by college students. The program will expand in its geographical reach and will be called the Delta I-Fund, according to an email newsletter from the Hub.
The next two 12-week sessions will be in the fall, offering $50,000 in potential funding for each startup. All companies accepted to the program will receive $5,000. Participants will be selected by a five-person committee, according to the Hub.
The I-Fund was founded in fall 2015 as an early stage, proof-of-concept fund to train and invest in university startups in Arkansas. However, with the support of the DRA, headquartered in Clarksdale, Miss., the fund will now work with companies throughout the eight-state Delta region: Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana.
IberiaBank, which donated $1 million to the I-Fund in the fall, also concentrates its philanthropic aims in the Delta region. The bank is headquartered in Lafayette, La.
The training portion of the Delta I-Fund is based on the National Science Foundation’s I-Corps program, according to Jeff Stinson, director of entrepreneurship for the Hub.
Eight student companies were chosen to be the 2016 I-Fund group. Schools initially participating in the partnership were the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Arkansas State University and the University of Arkansas.
The companies were also given $5,000 upfront, once admitted to the program, and have the potential to receive up to $50,000 if they choose to apply for additional grants before the end of the school year.
The additional funding is contingent on the students opening a viable company, as opposed to keeping the idea as an academic pursuit, Stinson said.
Five of the eight companies applied for a second round of funding at $20,000 in the fall, but none of the companies have applied so far for the third round at $25,000.
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