Since 2001, the Arkansas Governor’s Cup has bolstered the state’s college students in bringing their entrepreneurial ideas to life. But it would not have been possible without the hard work of Arkansas Capital Corporation, through its nonprofit Arkansas Economic Acceleration Foundation, and the contributions of key sponsors.
This year’s Governor’s Cup title sponsor is Delta Plastics, the nation’s leading manufacturer and supplier of irrigation polytube for the agriculture industry.
The company, which also leads the nation in recycling contaminated plastics, has been involved with the Governor’s Cup since 2004 and took on sponsorship of the competition’s Innovation Division in 2011.
“This is an excellent opportunity,” says Dhu Thompson, owner and chairman of Delta Plastics. “The Governor’s Cup is a good runway of exposure for these students. It takes a special talent, and these kids have that.”
Thompson recognizes the importance of nurturing innovation and an entrepreneurial spirit. It’s why he chose to get involved with the competition, having also served as a judge in the past. He knows the students who take the stage at the Governor’s Cup represent the next generation of Arkansas business leaders.
“They’re the future,” Thompson says. “Think about all that has generated just out of Arkansas, all those large companies that have been highly successful – we all know who they are. Those were all started by entrepreneurs, and look what they’ve built.”
He encourages other businesses to take notice of what the program is doing, to join them in helping cultivate Arkansas’ future. “In promotion of anything that’s positive, you need financial support,” he adds. “When you’re trying to educate a market – in our case other business owners – how special this can be for our state and communities, it takes a while. But once they understand the vision and see how these businesses can come to fruition and how these young people can grow individually, you find that it’s very much worth it.”
Not only is Thompson passionate about what he does – helping conserve billions of gallons of water and keeping tons of waste from landfills – he’s also passionate about helping others bring their ideas to life here in Arkansas. Since acquiring Delta Plastics in 1996, he’s had opportunities to leave the state. But he stayed put.
“I had the opportunity to move this company to Louisiana,” says Thompson, a Louisiana native. “I met with economic development in Louisiana and was given a sincere opportunity.”
Before making his decision, Thompson called on then-Governor Mike Beebe. He told him the obstacles that stood in his way. Beebe didn’t overpromise; he showed Thompson where his path forward was in growing his business.
“I sat down with Gov. Beebe and he said ‘I can do this, but I can’t do that. I can do this, but not that.’ He laid it all out, gave me a clear path as to what I can really do. Once you have a clear path, you can move forward. And I had that here in Arkansas,” he says.
And just like the state gave him a clear path in advancing his business, Thompson gives his many employees a clear path to success outlined by the core values Delta Plastics strives for.
“You can walk into Delta Plastics, and we have a culture,” says Thompson. “Our culture is based on our core values, and we promote them in every meeting, task forces… Our core values give a clear path as to how to start and advance with this company. It’s a clear progression, based on sincere values the whole company follows.”
Thompson urges young Arkansas entrepreneurs to recognize the importance of establishing and consistently promoting a shared vision, a culture and values when building their new businesses.
But that’s not the only advice Thompson has: “Believe in your vision. Be passionate about it. Be empathetic to others. You’ll grow more from your failures. And don’t ever quit.”
While Delta Plastics is leading the way in support of the 2018 Arkansas Governor’s Cup, a number of other local businesses and organizations are stepping up to do their part. One such entity is the Arkansas Economic Development Commission (AEDC).
AEDC, under the leadership of director Mike Preston, has worked diligently to recruit and help develop businesses in the Natural State. Nurturing innovators is just another part of their master plan to grow Arkansas economically.
“Entrepreneurs are the future of our state’s economy,” says Preston. “And AEDC strives to do everything we can to support them. Sponsoring programs for young people – like the Arkansas Governor’s Cup – is important, as the research these individuals are doing has the potential to impact us all.”
Likewise, Arkansas Farm Bureau has locked arms with the entrepreneurial event in an effort to promote innovation in Arkansas agriculture.
“We believe it’s important to encourage innovation in agriculture, which is why we’ve been long-time supporters of the the Arkansas Governor’s Cup Collegiate Business Plan competition,” says Arkansas Farm Bureau Executive Vice President Warren Carter. “It’s exciting to see the outstanding ideas these young people present each year and to honor them for the hard work they put in to creating their business plans.
“Agriculture is Arkansas’ largest industry,” he adds. “And that’s why it’s so important to have young people developing ideas that can help our state’s farmers and ranchers.”
Windstream, too, has stepped up to join other local businesses to help nurture young innovators.
“Windstream helps solve complex networking and communications challenges for business of all sizes,” says David Avery, vice president of corporate affairs. “That involves anticipating next-generation technical innovations and leveraging them to enable customer success. The future entrepreneurs in our colleges and universities are also innovators, who are helping shape the business ecosystem in Arkansas. Windstream is proud to support the Arkansas Governor’s Cup, which provides an important educational platform to turn creative business visions into reality.”
No stranger to the entrepreneurial spirit is Innovate Arkansas, a program of Winrock International dedicated to accelerating scalable ventures. Innovate Arkansas has joined forces with other major sponsors to help make the Governor’s Cup a reality.
“Innovate Arkansas is pleased to support programs like the Governor’s Cup because we believe developing and supporting the next generation of problem-solving, entrepreneurs is vital to creating new opportunities for more Arkansans to work and thrive in our knowledge-based economy,” says David Sanders, Innovate Arkansas director.
Other key sponsors for the event include Dillard’s, The Stephens Group, Entergy Arkansas, Rose Law Firm, Safe Foods, the Little Rock Regional Chamber and Harriet and Warren Stephens.