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Visionary Arkansans 2018: Benito Lubazibwa 

click to enlarge BRIAN CHILSON
  • Brian Chilson

Benito Lubazibwa wants to do more than encourage African-American entrepreneurship, though that is the primary focus of his own startup, Remix Ideas. "Integrating capital with humanity" is what the native of Tanzania and University of Central Arkansas alumnus says is the ultimate goal: to make Little Rock a more connected, integrated place to live, to break down barriers not just to capital — an entrepreneur's biggest challenge — but between people.

That's what Remix's Night Market in the Bernice Garden has been able to achieve on a small scale. The Night Market's slogan is "One City, One Love," and serves as both a platform for startups — 40 vendors were at the September event — and a place to mingle, listen to music, dine and dance. Nearly all the vendors were women, a fact that pleased Lubazibwa mightily, and established businesses on Main Street indirectly benefited. The event, which Lubazibwa and chief creative officer Angel Burt organized, featured not just African-American women starting out in business, but food trucks featuring the cuisine of many nationalities: Venezuelan, Mexican, Colombian and African. It also had a broader mission than to help create business: It also created jobs. The men setting up and taking down the market were hired intentionally from the ranks of SoMa's homeless population, and Lubazibwa said they were eager, excellent employees who not only showed up on time, but early. They were paid $15 an hour and given T-shirts identifying them with the Night Market. "I told people, the people you have been serving, dancing with, those are the people you call homeless. I call them freedom fighters — they have to fight against whatever is holding them back," Lubazibwa said.

Remix has been in business for a year, working with financing partner Communities Unlimited Inc., which provides microloans, and Innovate Arkansas, an initiative of Winrock International. It hosts the "Remix Pitch Challenge," awarding $1,000 to the winning startup pitch, and will hold a "Celebration of Startups" networking and pitch challenge party from 5-10 p.m. Dec. 14 at the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub, 201 E. Broadway in North Little Rock. (Tickets are $10.)

Remix seeks to inspire would-be entrepreneurs with its radio show "Remix Ideas." Creative officer Burt interviews business people on the half-hour show on KABF-FM, 88.3, which airs at 11:30 a.m. Wednesdays.

Remix has also worked out discounts for use of co-working spaces at the Little Rock Technology Park and the Innovation Hub. Remix clients will be able to use space at the tech park, at 417 Main St., for $50 a month, and at the Hub for $40 a month.

Remix has several workshops and events lined up for 2019, including a 12-week Startups Business Academy, beginning in February, for people who have the ideas, but not the know-how, on running a business. "Eighty percent of startups fail," Lubazibwa said. The business academy will be practical, showing people how to test their ideas. "You don't buy a car without driving it," he said. "You test drive."

Remix will also hold three pitch challenges and the Ideas Weekend festival July 25-27.

Lubazibwa is also working to introduce the Impactor card, which for $10 will give card holders discounts at participating businesses. It's similar to the Partners Card that the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences issues to support cancer research, but instead of two weeks, the Impactor Card will be good for a year. Several businesses have signed on to the idea already, including Remix Ideas' most high-profile success story, Kontiki African Restaurant; and Pyramid Art Books and Custom Framing. Garbo Hearne, who owns Pyramid, said she was impressed with Lubazibwa's energy and his ideas for Little Rock. Lubazibwa said the card would be a "win-win" for customers, giving them a break, and businesses, who would see more customers.

Lubazibwa said he worked in Africa after graduating from UCA in 2001, but realized that Arkansas was as much in need of the same "ecosystem" — a favorite word of startup promoters — to address similar barriers to economic success as were the places in Africa he worked.

It was his parents who instilled in him the notion that the important thing in life was to help others. "They believe that you are judged not by your harvest, but by the seed you are planting. ... That's been in my life since the beginning."

The next movement among people of color will be an economic movement, Lubazibwa believes. "Martin Luther King did an excellent job on civil rights. Now it's time for this generation to fight for economic mobility," not just for African Americans, but "women, Latinos, everybody." He believes Remix is part of that movement.

For information on Remix workshops and events, go to remixideas.com.
 

 
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