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Plug and Play, a tech firm that links startups with corporations around the world, plans to open a supply chain and logistics "accelerator" program in Northwest Arkansas.

The goal of the program is to draw startup businesses from around the world to Arkansas and help solve industry issues facing the region's employers such as Walmart, Tyson Foods and J.B. Hunt.

Plug and Play's network of startups with expertise in different fields can help solve problems and inefficiencies at a faster rate, reducing supply chain costs, said Saheed Amidi, chief executive officer and founder of Plug and Play.

"The idea is, if you get the commitment from these Fortune 500 companies, that they embrace the culture of innovation, change, working with entrepreneurs -- then I think we will be super effective," Amidi said.

Plug and Play was founded in Sunnyvale, Calif., in 2006 and helps new businesses grow by connecting them with resources, including large corporations.

Plug and Play's accelerator program in Northwest Arkansas will hold workshops, mentorship sessions, business development and investment opportunity classes, according to a news release. The supply chain and logistics program will touch on newer topics such as blockchain, last-mile delivery, warehouse automation and machine learning.

An event was held in Sunnyvale on Tuesday with representatives from Arkansas in attendance. A separate event will be held in Northwest Arkansas this summer, when more information is available.

The Silicon Valley firm has 23 offices and locations throughout Europe, Asia, the Middle East and North America. Four are in the Western Hemisphere: Cleveland; New York; Guadalajara, Mexico; and Silicon Valley.

Offices in Arkansas would make it five.

"Specifically ... we would like to connect Northwest Arkansas to Silicon Valley, Munich, Paris, Shanghai and bring the best startups from all over the world for three to six months to offer their technology and solutions to not only Walmart, but the more than 1,000 [consumer packaged goods] companies in the area," Amidi said.

The effort has support from the Walton Family Foundation, the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, Tyson Foods, J.B. Hunt and Walmart, and is coordinated by the Northwest Arkansas Council. A grant from the Walton Family Foundation will support community events, workshops and education and training for participants.

Startups the world over are poised to gain exposure to the region and its employers with Plug and Play's plans, but local startups are not out of the picture.

Nelson Peacock, president and chief executive officer of the Northwest Arkansas Council, said Plug and Play's presence can help local startups by sparking "a kind of buzz and focus on entrepreneurship" that will motivate them to get better and for more people to get involved.

"You need all of that working together to compete and make sure we are as competitive the next 20 years as we were the last 20 years," he said.

Students at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville also stand to benefit from Plug and Play's presence. The firm has a history of collaborating with colleges through internships, class projects and research opportunities, said Matthew Waller, dean of the university's Sam M. Walton College of Business.

"The university isn't a partner, so to speak," Waller said. "But we benefit. We have an interest and are thrilled that the founder has gone out of his way to say we want to collaborate with the university.

"The thing that is pretty amazing about it is we are kind of in the list of cities that are just mega cities really, but I think it's because of our unusually high density of expertise," he said.

When Amidi thinks of Northwest Arkansas, he thinks of Stuttgart, Germany, home to automaker Mercedes-Benz and, since 2016, a Plug and Play location. He said the firm's plans for Arkansas, home to the world's largest retailer, are similar to what happened there.

"If Plug and Play can do that in Stuttgart, then we can do that with Northwest Arkansas," he said.

Business on 05/15/2019

Print Headline: Global firm to open NW Arkansas site focused on startups

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