Brian Chilson

Those who think that studying poetry in high school is a waste of time for those whose future is in business should meet Kim Lane.

Lane, 27, who speaks (and thinks) nearly as fast as the speed of sound, rattled off the Edgar Lee Masters poem that inspired her in her teenage years to make her own happiness and success in the working world, part of which is “Ambition called to me, but I dreaded the chances. … Life without meaning is torture.”

Did this reporter know, Lane asked during an interview at a coffee shop in Conway, where she is the CEO of startup promoter The Conductor, that “85 percent of people hate their jobs?” She was determined that would not be her fate.

Lane’s path to The Conductor was a complicated one, a route that took the Hendrix College writing major to work as an advertising writer, then a freelance writer of listicals for a national online publication, then an editor for a local online publication about business (she was also an intern at the Arkansas Times). After a visit to the first Arkansas Challenge startup contest in Northwest Arkansas, she “fell in love with the whole entrepreneurial thing.” On she went to the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub, where she oversaw its One Million Cups entrepreneur meetups created by the Ewing Marian Kauffman Foundation. She was so successful that Kauffman asked her to be a regional organizer. She became an organizer for the Global Entrepreneurship Network after she brought Global Entrepreneurship Week to Arkansas. For the network, she’s traveled to places as far-flung as Africa and Istanbul to help create community among entrepreneurs.

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People have been starting businesses for eons, so why the need for The Conductor’s mentorships, guidance and access to funding? Because the economy has changed. She cited Kauffman vice president Victor Hwang’s comparison of the industrial age economy to today’s: It was once the case that the entrepreneur created a widget and the factory that turned it out. Lane likened it to row crop farming, with one plant dominating and weeds — new ideas — being removed. In today’s technological world, she said, there is more opportunity for entrepreneurs to act on their own, “and by the way, weeds are good now.” Today’s job creation is “more about embracing the beauty of everybody’s ideas,” Lane said.

Some of those ideas are coming from students. The Conductor, which Lane and “Chief Catalyst” Jeff Standridge got up and running with help from partner Startup Junkie Consulting of Fayetteville, partners with the University of Central Arkansas. UCA offers the free Makerspace, complete with 3D printers and other fabrication tools, on its campus, and Lane said it’s always full. The space will grow — and continue to be free — when the Conway Corp. utility creates the Arnold Innovation Center in what is now City Hall at 1201 W. Oak St. “It’s going to be groundbreaking,” Lane said, and credited the collaboration of the Conway Chamber of Commerce, City Hall, Acxiom, Conway Corp. and other sponsors for “moving the needle” of entrepreneurship in Conway and Faulkner County and reducing barriers to business ideas from minorities and women.

Lane said she works “at the intersection of life coaching and entrepreneurship,” helping people see that they can act on their dreams, and “see their life a different way.” She advises not just people who have ideas but people who only know they want a job that will make them happy.