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GivingJuly 31, 2023

UAFS Launches Community Investment Fund

Written By: Rachel Rodemann Putman

The University of Arkansas – Fort Smith Center for Economic Development and the UAFS Foundation have announced plans for a revolutionary Community Investment Fund (CIF) of nearly $200,000 aimed at providing seed funds to locally-owned startups in the River Valley.

With an expected launch in early 2024, the Center for Economic Development plans to award these funds to small business owners who have faced barriers to accessing capital, markets, and essential networks for growth. In the spirit of nurturing local innovation, the CIF will prioritize investment in River Valley-based ventures that serve the unique needs of the region. 

“The CED plays a crucial role in fostering economic growth by empowering businesses, aiding entrepreneurs, offering workforce training, and promoting innovation, and launching the CIF will enable us to amplify our impact,” said Kendall Ross, Executive Director of the CED.

“99.9% of businesses across the US are small businesses,” added Bill Sabo, director of the UAFS Arkansas Small Business and Development Center. “Our goal is to ensure that the entrepreneurs in the River Valley have access to the resources and support needed to launch their ideas, build their businesses, and amplify their impact across the region.

Over the coming months, the Center for Economic Development will establish an advisory board for the CIF composed of local business leaders and community organizers. The board will be instrumental in setting application standards, reviewing requests, accessing feasibility, and awarding funds to small businesses with the greatest potential to improve the region.  

To establish the fund, the UAFS Foundation Board of Directors has committed $130,272 to an endowment that will generate perpetual funding for the CIF, with an additional $64,011 to be used as seed funding for the first implementation phase.  

“Supporting small businesses isn’t just about economic development; it’s about strengthening the fabric of our community,” said Blake Rickman, executive director of the UAFS Foundation. “The UAFS Foundation Board believes in supporting the resilience and vision of our local small business owners because we know they are pivotal in driving the River Valley’s growth.”

Over a five-year span, the CIF will utilize equity and equity-like financial instruments to invest in these companies. The university hopes to grow this program into a sustainable revolving loan fund, a move that will sophisticate the process and create perpetual funding for River Valley entrepreneurs.

“We have big goals for the future and are exploring a number of ways we can grow this program to facilitate additional funding,” Rickman said. “But for now, we are eager to get this first phase of investments into the hands of the entrepreneurs and innovators who need them and prove just how profound that investment can be for our community."


About the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith: Founded in 1928, the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith has served the citizens of Arkansas for nearly a century, empowering the social mobility of its students and fostering the economic growth of the River Valley. Through dynamic academic programs, innovative research and development, and robust community partnerships, brings the power of education to the nearly 6,000 ambitious students who call it home. A commitment to experiential learning means UAFS students are ready to enter their careers the day they cross the commencement stage, and a dedicated body of faculty and staff who truly care prepare them for success at every stage of life.  


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  • UAFS Foundation
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  • Foundation

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Rachel Rodemann Putman

  • Director of Strategic Communications
  • 479-788-7132
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