Northwest Arkansas probably does not come instantly to mind as a tech hub, admits Jeannette Balleza , director of The ARK Challenge Technology Accelerator.

But, NW Arkansas is cultivating its own startup ecosystem, building on its core strengths. The longstanding home to the corporate headquarters of Walmart, Tyson Foods, and J.B. Hunt Transport Services, Northwest Arkansas is recognized worldwide for leadership and world-class expertise in the retail, food and logistics industries.

In addition, Balleza points out, NW Arkasas has the easy networking climate and reasonable costs of a small town but big city amenities demanded by a young, tech savvy workforce.

Tech companies – which do not have to be from Arkasas – have one week left to apply for a spot in the 14-week ARK challenge program. It seeks firms that can build a mobile app or Internet product attractive to one of the above clusters – retail, logistics, food processing – in time to demonstrate it to potential customers and investors following the program.

Up to 15 selected companies will receive over $18K each in seed funding, promotion, invaluable networking with advisors and potential funders, as well as intensive mentoring from a group of community-based and national mentors during a 14-week entrepreneurial bootcamp starting August 2012.

Each of the selected companies also will benefit from services of Innovate Arkansas, a program of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission and Winrock International that encourages technology-based innovations and job creation in Arkansas. Two of the selected startups will be eligible for an additional $150,000 in funding.

The ARK Challenge’s 60+ mentors include:

  • Collins Hemingway, best known for partnering with Microsoft founder Bill Gates on the #1 best-seller Business @ the Speed of Thought
  • Jinhee Kim, founder of Snapette, a mobile app for snap-happy fashionistas and a 500 startups co.
  • Dan Sanker, CEO of CaseStack, recognized as “One of the Best Places to Work” in the County, #1 in the Deloitte Technology Fast50, #1 as the fastest-growing private company by the Los Angeles Business Journal
  • Rick Webb, Sr. Vice President, Global Business Processes, of Walmart
  • Greg Lee, Former Chief Administrative Officer and President of Tyson Foods International

Inspired by innovation across the heartland—Detroit, Austin, Raleigh and Silicon Prairie of the Midwest, Northwest Arkansas is cultivating its own startup ecosystem, building on its core strengths. The longstanding home to the corporate headquarters of Walmart, Tyson Foods, and J.B. Hunt Transport Services, Northwest Arkansas is recognized worldwide for leadership and world-class expertise in the retail, food and logistics industries.

Additionally, The ARK Challenge has conducted interviews with representatives in each of these key industry clusters to identify the newest playgrounds for innovation for technology entrepreneurs. The resulting five-page technology assessment report is available for download here.

Bazella says ARK has received applications from seven countries and 11 states, some of them “exciting ideas in media social analytics.”

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