Things are rockin’ at the Rock It Lab!
Last year was a big year for the Cox Building. In January, the bookstore moved out and a brand-new business incubator program moved in – The Rock It! Lab. The RIL is a partnership between CALS and Advancing Black Entrepreneurship (ABE) focused on helping business owners (or aspiring business owners) in under-resourced communities. The program is multi-pronged, offering a six-month incubator program that includes business guidance, space for entrepreneurs to have meetings as well as sell their products.
In 2021, as part of a larger grant awarded to Arkansas from U.S. Small Business Administration, the small business center at UALR received 2.5 million dollars as a community navigator that will be distributed among six local entities – and CALS is one of those entities. Through this program, the RIL’s portion is $250,000, with $125,000 given in 2022 and the remaining $125,000 in 2023. The RIL anticipates using these funds to continue the efforts to help minority and women owned businesses to start or continue their path to entrepreneurship.
In October of 2021, they introduced their first class of entrepreneurs into the mentorship incubator program. These individuals agreed to a six-month commitment which will end this month and a new group of lucky people will be selected and move into their places. The graduates will be allowed to continue to use the RIL spaces, but now as members of the coworking community.
Just last month, the RIL has moved to the next phase of development and is seeking additional individuals who might be interested in partaking in the coworking space and other amenities that the building offers. This is the first time this free membership will be extended to those not participating in the incubator program. Amenities available include general business items you might expect, like meeting spaces, printers and copiers, and wifi, but there are other items that one might not expect, like access to creative tools and resources in the makerspace including sewing machines and art studio space, as well as an invitation to networking events and one-on-one mentorship opportunities.
If you’re not an entrepreneur in need of the RIL services, fear not, you can help support these up-and-coming businesses in a few different ways:
- You can patronize them. The RIL has had a few public events where guests can come in and shop the wares, since April 16th, they have been open every Saturday from 10 am – 4 pm. Currently there are about fifteen vendors to shop from and you can find everything from shelf-stable food products and soaps to handmade jewelry and luxury apparel.
- Become a mentor. The RIL is always looking for new mentors to help guide new members. A qualified mentor would be someone who has personal experience owning a business or C-level experience; is comfortable teaching and has the ability to share and relate; and has time to dedicate to an individual, we ask for a six-month commitment from our mentors to help see them through the program.
- Donate. If you are unable to make a time commitment, the RIL would appreciate any donation you can send. These funds help to buy additional equipment, support future training, hire top-notch speakers and presenters, and more.
- Follow the Rock It! Lab on Facebook.