TENWEST Festival Highlights Innovation
By April Bourie
Have you ever considered who created products we use every day? Who invented the cell phone? Whose brainchild was overnight package shipping? And aren’t we all thankful to those who introduced air conditioning to this desert region? We may not know their names, but they have revolutionized the way we live, work and play.
Founded in 2012, Startup Tucson has worked to advocate, support and further entrepreneurs just like these as they launch and grow their businesses. The organization’s TENWEST Impact Festival, being held Nov. 4-10 in Downtown Tucson, aims to foster a culture of innovation by providing attendees an opportunity to discover how the connectivity of ideas and people across industries can create tangible impact in communities of all sizes.
The “TEN” in TENWEST stands for Technology, Entrepreneurship and New creative class–the three themes featured in the festival, according to Festival Director Matt Baquet. The “WEST” portion of the name represents the growing innovation, creative and entrepreneurial ecosystems in the West and specifically in Southern Arizona.
The festival will kick off with the TENWEST StreetFest on Nov. 4, held in the area of 6th Ave. and 6th St. This free event is open to the public and is held to provide an offering for the entire community with interactive activities for all ages. Kinetic Arts Tucson will host an aerial stage with acrobatic performances, and a live music stage will host local, regional, and national performing artists.
“We’re really leaning toward experiential activities. It will be an adventure to walk though. Everywhere you look, something will be going on, including artisan and food vendor booths, a fashion show and a pop-up bar,” said Baquet. “In addition, several of our conference presenters will have a booth or will host some kind of activity to encourage people to the attend the conference.”
Conference sessions will feature high-caliber national speakers, including Lakeysha “Key” Hallmon, who created The Village Market Atlanta. The market showcases a variety of Black-owned businesses in 38 states and four countries, connecting them with consumers, resources and dedicated community partners. She will discuss holistic approaches to building a business and why authentic community-building needs to be part of the process.
Local presenters are also part of the mix. “Tucson and Southern Arizona have amazingly talented individuals who are experts in their industry,” said Startup Tucson CEO Liz Pocock. “Oftentimes those industries don’t exist in Southern Arizona, so they don’t get the recognition locally that they should. We work hard to feature these local heroes doing amazing things behind the scenes as our presenters.”
Joe O’Connell, owner of Creative Machines, is one of those “local heroes” who will speak during the conference.
“He’s one of the biggest hidden gems in our community, a real creative genius,” said Baquet. “His company creates these art installations that are very precise and fabricated to the pinpoint.” O’Connell will tell the story of how Creative Machines came to be and how it turns clients’ ideas into huge art installations.
Another popular aspect of the conference is the Pitch Competition where entrepreneurs pitch their ideas to a group of judges to compete for the top prize of $25,000. “It’s like our local Shark Tank. We received over 100 applications to compete last year,” Baquet said.
xEvents are evening events often including live entertainment. Attendees will notice that the performers at the xEvents are also presenters during the conference. On Nov. 7, Noah Gundersen will perform. He’s a singer/songwriter who has performed music for the Sons of Anarchy TV show. During the conference, he’ll discuss music licensing. Some xEvents will be presented in partnership with Arizona Arts Live and others will also feature food and drink events.
Through all of these activities and presentations, festival planners hope to showcase the connectivity between technology, entrepreneurship, creativity, culture and impact, inspiring attendees to gain the knowledge and inspiration they need to innovate within their own careers and communities.
“TENWEST is a killer week of connection and door-opening opportunities for attendees,” Baquet said.
TENWEST Impact Festival
Date: Nov. 4-10, 2023
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