Mike Thompson is a frozen treats guru. As chief pops officer of Pedal Pops, a purveyor of natural frozen fruit bars in northwest Arkansas, he is an expert at flavor, no doubt about it.
Thompson started his business riding a tricycle around the Bentonville square and moved into a food truck that allowed him to attend concerts and events. As Pedal Pops’ popularity grew, Thompson opened a storefront and sought help from Entrepreneurship for All of Northwest Arkansas (EforAll).
The nonprofit organization, which boosts economic and social impact through inclusive entrepreneurship, offers a free, year-long accelerator program. In it, Thompson was paired with three mentors from the business community who used their expertise to help him grow his business.
One of them was Phil Whitehead, a corporate banker at BOK Financial® with 30 years of banking experience.
The ripple effect of mentorship
Facing a high rate of failure, small businesses and entrepreneurs need all the help they can get. Half of small businesses fail within the first five years, and 70% fail within a decade, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
"The business owners I worked with occasionally felt like they might not make it," Whitehead agreed. "My fellow mentors and I offered business advice, and we also provided affirmation. We helped our mentees feel less alone and ensured they didn't give up."
Working with one business owner at a time adds up. Nationally, EforAll has helped start 1,400 businesses since 2013. In 2022, EforAll mentee businesses generated $66 million in revenue and provided 2,108 local jobs.
With the region's Hispanic population now at 17%, EforAll of Northwest Arkansas recently launched a Spanish-language program, EparaTodos, to ensure that all residents have the same opportunity to start and grow a business.
"I love seeing how my volunteer time directly impacts the local economy," Whitehead said of his work with EforAll. "When small businesses thrive, they hire more people, grow their communities and contribute to the economy. It's a win for everyone."
In addition to mentoring, Whitehead also taught EforAll accounting workshops as part of the organization's ongoing effort to expand local entrepreneurs' business acumen and skills. The organization also hosts pitch contests, enabling early-stage entrepreneurs to gain valuable exposure and feedback on a business idea with the chance to win a cash prize. EforAll programming is free to participants thanks to grant funding, donations and volunteers like Whitehead.
Meanwhile, Pedal Pops’ brick-and-mortar home, called Pedal Park, now hosts four permanent food trucks, trivia and karaoke nights. Plus it’s the community hub Thompson envisioned. “I have been in business for 10 years,” said Thompson. He appreciated his experience with EforAll so much he’s now a mentor himself.
“When I moved away from a mobile model, it was so helpful to have my EforAll mentors helping me think through everything to make sure I considered all the factors. They were so patient and always took my business very seriously.”