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The Little Rock Venture Center is scouting for opportunities in the Northeast corridor to expand the organization's corporate innovation offerings.

To support the effort, the entrepreneurial support organization has hired a full-time employee in New York who will explore potential strategic partnerships – everything from starting new accelerator programs to cultivating business opportunities with banks and corporations seeking to enhance their innovation efforts.

The Venture Center has hired Jacob Bouer to spearhead the effort out of New York City.

"Jacob's relationships and experience working in the fintech space will be immediately impactful as the call for corporate innovation climbs," said Wayne Miller, executive director of the Venture Center.

"We look forward to expanding the Venture Center's offerings to meet the globally growing need."

Before joining the Little Rock organization, Bouer was a key team member at the Money 20/20 conference and most recently led partnerships at Plug and Play Fintech, a corporate innovation platform that works with more than 60 financial institutions and more than 20,000 startups globally.

The conference has been held annually since 2012 and is one of the world's largest events uniting businesses and entrepreneurs involved in payments, financial technology and financial services.

Little Rock's Venture Center has been gaining attention internationally for its two primary accelerator programs, one focused on financial technology startups and the other on entrepreneurs who provide products and services to community banks.

As those programs gain traction, interest has grown in the services the Venture Center offers, and opportunities to expand in other areas have increased.

Many of the nation's largest financial institutions have the internal resources to invest in innovative programs that expand their products and services, Other corporations recognize the need to push innovation yet lack the funding or talent needed to pursue it. That's when they turn to organizations like the Venture Center for help and support.

Bouer will build relationships with corporations that want to innovate efficiently and effectively, and he'll connect them with the resources available through the Venture Center team.

"As the financial landscape calls for constant collaboration between incumbent banks and technology companies, I'm proud to play a role in bridging that gap," he added.

More information is available at www.venturecenter.co/corporate.

OZK A-OK

Stephens Inc. has given a boost to Bank OZK after the bank's second-quarter earnings report revealed that profits and earnings per share dropped by more than 50% in the period that ended June 30.

OZK's earnings in the quarter, the first full three months under the pandemic, were sliced because of economic issues caused by Covid-19 and additional provisions for loan losses the bank was forced to make to meet regulatory requirements.

Last week, Stephens underlined the positive aspects of OZK's earnings report and the Little Rock investment banking firm upgraded its outlook for the lender. The bank announced earnings on July 23.

The second-quarter results "were driven by stable credit trends, solid loan growth and good cost controls," Stephens analyst Matt Olney wrote in the report.

As a result, Stephens increased its price target for the bank's stock to $27 per share and raised its earnings per share target for this year from $1.37 to $1.56. The forecast for 2021 was increased to $2.72 from $2.46.

MAIN STREET SUPPORT

Arkansas is adding another quarter million dollars in grant awards to boost economic development and job growth in downtown business districts.

Total grants available through the Main Street Arkansas program will increase to $559,000 in Fiscal 2021, the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism announced last week.

The department hands out the grants to spark downtown revitalization efforts. Grants range from $3,000 to $25,000 based on a community's level of participation and the number of businesses operating in the downtown commercial district.

"Through these grants and the patronage of their friends and neighbors, these businesses will continue to drive local economies and contribute to Arkansas's bright future," department Secretary Stacy Hurst said in announcing the funding increase.

Main Street Arkansas communities receiving $25,000 grants are: Conway, El Dorado, Eureka Springs, Fort Smith, Jonesboro, North Little Rock, Paragould and Searcy; $22,500 each will go to Batesville, Blytheville, Little Rock's downtown partnership, Ozark, Pine Bluff, Russellville, Siloam Springs, Texarkana and West Memphis.

Grants of $20,000 will be awarded to Dumas, Helena-West Helena, Paris and Little Rock's South of Main district.

Downtown Partnership communities receiving $3,000 each include: Arkadelphia, Calico Rock, Camden, Clarksville, Forrest City, Hardy, Hope, Lonoke, Malvern, Mena, Monticello, Morrilton, Newport, Pocahontas, Prairie Grove, Rector, Warren and Wynne.

SOLAR SHINES

Three Arkansas solar installers have been recognized for their efforts to build power arrays in the state.

Scenic Hill Solar and Seal Solar, both of North Little Rock, and Shine Solar of Rogers have been named to Solar Power World's 2020 Top Solar Contractors list.

The list recognizes solar contractors in the United States in the utility, commercial and residential markets.

In 2019, the Arkansas-based solar companies installed nearly 10,000 kilowatts of combined solar capacity.

PROGRAM EXPIRES ... AGAIN

As the Paycheck Protection Program expires, Goldman Sachs has released a national survey that reveals 84% of small businesses that borrowed money through the program will run out of funds just as the program shuts down. The loan program was originally scheduled to expire June 30 but the application period was extended.

Applications for Paycheck Protection Program loans end Aug. 8 and the Goldman Sachs report said that 84% of the more than 1,500 loan participants surveyed said they would run out of loan funds this week.

In Arkansas, more than 42,000 small businesses have received more than $3.3 billion in the loans, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration, which administers the program.

The survey found that the loss of revenue and customers for small businesses has been astounding. Nearly two-thirds said less than 75% of their pre-coronavirus revenue has returned; 60% said less than 75% of their customer base has come back since the outbreak.

The survey was conducted July 7-8.

As the loan program shuts down, the Small Business Administration is ramping up efforts to approve forgiveness for borrowers who received paycheck loans. The Small Business Administration announced that it will begin accepting forgiveness requests on Aug. 10.

Businesses that participated in the paycheck program must work through their lenders to apply for forgiveness of payroll and other essential expenses such as rent and utilities. Lenders will approve the request and then the bank submits the application to the Small Business Administration for approval.

More information is available at sba.gov.

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