The Bay Area has Silicon Valley. New York has Silicon Alley. Northwest Arkansas has…
“The Silicon Alley of Retail,” suggests Ted Rubin, the former CMO of Collective Bias. Based in Bentonville, Ark., Collective Bias describes itself as a social shopper media company that connects consumer goods companies and retailers to a network of bloggers and social-media influencers who in turn help them execute their brandedcampaigns.
The company, named to a list of the 25 “most promising” small companies of 2014 by Forbes, is one of several growing retail- food- and logistics-related tech startups in the region, which not coincidentally is dominated by a somewhat larger concern that’s also made a name for itself in the retail, food and logistics fields: Wal-Mart Stores.
Along with the region’s next two biggest companies — Tyson Foods and transportation giant J.B. Hunt — Walmart has helped to spark and inspire tech entrepreneurs in the region.
In nearby Fayetteville, there’s Field Agent. This company makes a mobile phone application that alerts users when a CPG or retail client needs to check on the conditions of a store or a display. Users — often asked to use their smart phones to take photos at a store — get a small fee for completing assignments, while clients receive information from a wealth of sources instantly where it might take employees days or weeks to gather.
Rick West, Field Agent’s founder and CEO and a former Proctor & Gamble executive, said the company is now taking such “crowdsourcing” efforts a step further by deploying agents with particular characteristics — for example, asking only moms of small children to check a kids’ cereal display, or deploying Target shoppers to provide impressions of Walmart. “If you can get $3, $4 or $5 for stopping by Walgreens on your way home, why wouldn’t you do that?”
Being located about 30 minutes from Walmart’s headquarters is a big advantage for the company, West says, and not only because Walmart happens to be a client; it also allows access to the “best and brightest” of CPG companies who’ve set up satellite offices to work with Walmart themselves.
Local economic development officials are helping to sustain the burgeoning tech field through a yearly competition known as the Ark Challenge, a business accelerator program awarding technology startups serving the retail and logistics industries five prizes of $50,000 each.
This environment has given rise to companies like Datarank, which monitors social-media conversations about brands; Acumen Brands, a collection of e-commerce sites focused on specialty apparel like medical scrubs; CrossFleet, a technology allowing for efficient transportation management; and Movista, a technology enabling retail headquarter offices to communicate with field workers efficiently. Movista also built the newly released “Fast to Go” app allowing users to pre-order food and arrange pickup from Walmart’s new convenience store.
"There are a lot of apps in the world,” says Movista co-founder April Seggebruch, “but any app that gets me hot ribs and cold potato salad is magic in my book.”
It could only happen in the Silicon Alley of Retail.
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