March 22, 2023

Los Angeles entrepreneur’s comeback story results in NWA

Chris Thompson took his first drink when he was 19.

Over the following 5 years, he started chopping himself off from family and friends, and the isolation fueled his alcohol habit. He ultimately hit all-time low in suburban Philadelphia.

Throughout his ultimate few weeks as a binge drinker, Thompson usually awoke on metropolis sidewalks.

“I used to be shaking with the DTs; all of the issues that include excessive alcoholism,” Thompson mentioned, referring to delirium tremens, an impact of alcohol withdrawal. “I used to be out of solutions when it got here to my alcoholism.”

However on Nov. 22, 2018 — Thanksgiving Day — Thompson started his comeback story.

“It was that day I made a decision my restoration was going to be an important side of my life shifting ahead,” he mentioned. “I made a decision that day to go all-in.”

4 years later, Thompson is sober, a budding entrepreneur dwelling together with his girlfriend close to Bentonville. They relocated to Northwest Arkansas from Los Angeles earlier this 12 months as a part of the Life Works Right here incentive program.

The nonprofit Northwest Arkansas Council began the $1 million marketing campaign two years in the past to draw proficient folks to the area. These chosen obtain a $10,000 grant and a motorbike.

Thompson, 28, is the CEO and founding father of Sidekick Cellular Applied sciences, creators of Sober Sidekick, a sobriety and restoration app on iOS and Android for folks combating habit or recovering from alcohol or drug abuse. Amongst a number of options, it provides on the spot nameless sober assist from actual folks.

Thompson launched the app in January 2019. The rising social community is approaching 150,000 members — there have been lower than 10,000 in January 2021 — and has been downloaded by customers in additional than 150 international locations.

“One of the vital impactful stats for me is that by the fifth time somebody engages with their friends on Sober Sidekick, their month-to-month danger of relapse goes down by 300%,” Thompson mentioned. “We’ve gamified empathy to the purpose the place for each member who posts, a minimum of six different members will reply in minutes, if not seconds.”

Thompson mentioned the corporate raised $140,000 from a current Wefunder marketing campaign — with important assist from Northwest Arkansas traders — and he’s anticipating to shut a $2 million seed funding spherical in early 2023. He mentioned {that a} international healthcare chief has dedicated to guide the spherical, however he declined to say extra.

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“What I like about Chris is his dedication to studying extra in regards to the customers on his platform,” mentioned Emma Willis, the chief working officer for Bentonville-based Enterprise Noire, a nationwide nonprofit targeted on supporting Black entrepreneurs. “He’s not simply there to show a revenue. He’s there to make sure he creates an setting that proves empathy exists, and humanity is entrance and heart. That’s what drew me to Chris. He’s refreshing and trustworthy.”

Willis mentioned Thompson’s inspiration resonates. Earlier than returning to Arkansas a number of years in the past to work for Enterprise Noire, Willis lived in Los Angeles. She beforehand labored with Thompson, who had traveled from Pennsylvania to California in November 2018 to test right into a rehab facility. When he checked out, he remained on the West Coast whereas placing his life again collectively. He additionally started engaged on a brand new facet mission — an thought for a special form of sobriety app.

“I remembered Chris’ die-hard spirit and by no means misplaced contact with him after leaving California, and I knew he was engaged on this [Sober Sidekick] mission,” Willis mentioned. “I believed he wanted to get out of California for his product to face out and never be drowned out by all of the lights of [Los Angeles].”

Thompson mentioned Willis steered greater than as soon as that he ought to relocate to Northwest Arkansas to faucet into the area’s startup scene, to not point out a captive investor viewers.

“To be trustworthy, I didn’t consider her,” Thompson mentioned. “It went in a single ear and out the opposite the primary few occasions. You’re telling me I’ll have extra traction in Arkansas than in Los Angeles?”

Willis organized digital introductory conferences with varied angel traders like Ramsay Ball.

“Chris and Sidekick are making unbelievable strides in addressing behavioral well being points by way of a digital neighborhood that’s quickly scaling,” mentioned Ball, who has an intensive background in actual property, non-public funding and neighborhood growth.

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Thompson ultimately visited Northwest Arkansas within the spring to fulfill Ball and different enterprise advisers face-to-face. Ball organized for Thompson to have an viewers with one other angel investor and startup adviser, Paige Jernigan.

Jernigan, a Pine Bluff native, labored for 15 years as an funding banker on Wall Avenue and spent her grownup life working in New York and London. She and her husband purchased a house in Bentonville in 2014 so their three boys, raised within the UK, might summer season within the Pure State nearer to household.

Jernigan splits her time between Northwest Arkansas and New York, working because the director of growth for the Bentonville think-and-do tank Heartland Ahead.

She mentioned she instantly noticed potential in Thompson’s thought and joined the refrain of individuals making an attempt to persuade him to relocate.

“He might keep in Los Angeles as a result of that’s the place the cash is, or Chicago or New York or San Francisco,” Jernigan mentioned. “However I’ll inform you one thing about Northwest Arkansas that you’re going to get right here that you’ll not get there, and that’s entry — to folks and mentors who will take real care in growing you as a supervisor and an organization founder.

“There’s not as a lot capital right here, however the variety of people who come by way of this city, given the ‘large three’ companies which are right here … there’s no higher place to be proper now within the U.S. in case you’re a founder.”

Jernigan secured a ticket for Thompson to return to Northwest Arkansas one month later and attend the Heartland Summit, a high-level occasion organized by Heartland Ahead. The 2-day, invitation-only gathering in Might convened roughly 300 policymakers, traders, enterprise and thought leaders and entrepreneurs from throughout the nation.

Organizers mentioned the objective was to advertise motion by convening folks taking part in a job within the success tales of thriving areas of America’s heartland.

Lower than three months later, Thompson’s motion was for him and his girlfriend to maneuver to Northwest Arkansas.

“You could possibly really feel the intentionality right here, the tempo that issues moved,” he mentioned. “That’s what bought me. I simply sensed that this complete neighborhood was a startup, and there was no higher time to get in on it.”

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Thompson mentioned Sober Sidekick’s progress in 2022 can simply be tied to being in Northwest Arkansas. He referenced securing the undisclosed lead investor within the healthcare area for the continued seed funding spherical. In September, Fortune journal interviewed Thompson for a profile in its “Time period Sheet” enterprise e-newsletter.

He mentioned the Division of Protection’s Protection Suicide Prevention Workplace (DSPO) has additionally requested a gathering to discover a potential pilot program with Sober Sidekick.

“We by no means had a lot issue producing traction from our members on the app; our customers are loyal,” he mentioned. “However we had hassle producing adoption within the healthcare area. Since we moved to Northwest Arkansas, that relationship-building has been good. We’ve made tons of wonderful connections, and it’s all resulted from with the ability to shake palms, meet folks head to head and construct relationships.”

Thompson mentioned 95% of Sober Sidekick members are within the U.S., the place, in accordance with the Nationwide Survey on Drug Use and Well being (NSDUH), 19.7 million American adults (aged 12 and older) battle substance abuse annually. However there are progress plans on a global scale.

“We need to get our partnerships up to the mark earlier than we focus an excessive amount of globally,” he mentioned.

Jernigan sees that form of potential, too. And never only for Sober Sidekick however for different purposes beneath the Sidekick Cellular Applied sciences holding firm. She mentioned the algorithm is confirmed and might be tweaked for varied makes use of.

“Title the aim for a neighborhood to be in contact with each other, and the algorithm works,” mentioned Jernigan, a Sidekick board member and investor. “Rising by 130,000 customers in 18 months is superb while you [consider] that’s just for one promote it’s addressing proper now. Tweak the algorithm 5 other ways, and you’ve got 5 totally different markets you possibly can introduce it. That’s how I take a look at investments, and I used to be blown away by it.”