By Tiffany Kjos
Two Tucson organizations are pooling their considerable energy and resources in a new program to help entrepreneurs.
People who are thinking about starting a business or have newly done so can get a discounted membership to the Tucson Metro Chamber and use free, customized services from Startup Tucson.
Here’s what the Startup Tucson Network offers:
• Personalized, one-on-one mentoring.
• The chance to network with large and small companies.
• An almost endless wealth of experience and tips from leaders in various industries.
• Health insurance options for businesses of two to 50 employees.
As part of the partnership Startup Tucson has moved into the Metro Chamber’s offices.
“What we’ve heard from startups is that they’ve had trouble navigating the full spectrum of resources available to them in Tucson,” said Liz Pocock, Startup Tucson’s new CEO. “Our role as a concierge is to help an entrepreneur take advantage of all of the resources in our community – not just what Startup Tucson offers.”
The Startup Network puts people on the right path for where they are in their company formation and connects them with the appropriate resources, such as Southern Arizona SCORE and the Small Business Development Center.
“We have entrepreneurs that are just starting their journey and entrepreneurs that are further along that have already raised their second or third funding round,” Pocock said.
“We usually encourage people to start with what we call discovery events. We have weekly Startup coffee and monthly Startup drinks. So you’re going to come there and meet other entrepreneurs, other founders, mentors, our staff – and if that vibes with you and you say ‘Okay, cool, I’m ready to talk to someone more about my idea,’ you would come to one of our labs.
“The labs walk entrepreneurs through the first part of the planning process – which is to ask ‘Who is your customer, what problem are you solving for them and what’s your value proposition?’ And so we do a workshop on that. You learn with peers. We help guide you through that process. After you’ve done your first lab, that’s when you can apply to be part of the network.”
The network is free to all interested entrepreneurs, Pocock said. The only requirement is that they fill out an initial growth tracker onboarding form and complete an annual update survey to show they are still active.
Startup Tucson Network members can join the chamber for a reduced rate of $150. The standard, entry-level rate is $495.
Barbi Reuter, board chair for the chamber, says the board’s focus is shifting to better mesh with today’s business climate.
“We’ve been very intentional in the last three years or so in diversifying the board – and this really fits with Startup Tucson because it’s not really about gender or race. We’ve got age, we’ve got type of company, we’ve got size of company, diversity of thought, diversity of perspective, candor,” said Reuter, president, PICOR Commercial Real Estate Services.
The chamber needs to grow and change with the times, said Amber Smith, who recently became the chamber’s CEO. “The chamber has been around 123 years and it’s important for us to innovate and evolve,” she said. “And you don’t see a stronger presence in that than in the startup community.”
The chamber has 27 board members. Startup Tucson, founded in 2012, has five.
Fletcher McCusker, a local investor known for his vision and support for Tucson’s businesses and the community as a whole, is excited about the new partnership.
“It’s really invigorating,” he said of Tucson and its economic development. “It’s multi-generational now. Our young people are sticking around. The university is really very different under President Robbins. We have growth capital now. We have three venture capital funds that are Tucson-based. It’s a very Austin-like environment.”
McCusker, who is president of Startup Tucson’s board and CEO of UA Venture Capital, coined the phrase “Your concierge to the innovation ecosystem” for Startup Tucson’s brochure.
“We just needed to put some smart women in charge,” he said, “and look what’s happened.”