A More Inclusive View of Entrepreneurship

‘Tis the season. The window is open to apply for the Arizona Innovation Challenge, and the 64 competitors in this year’s Venture Madness have been chosen. The high flyers are all out polishing their decks, and the investors are figuring out how much they have left to spend.

Meanwhile, 25 miles away in Mesa, a City of Mesa-funded space called Launchpoint has rented nearly 4000 square feet of space to tech companies who are organizing their own ecosystem. Launchpoint isn’t a coworking space exactly, although it shares the good aspects of coworking. And it isn’t an incubator exactly, because no company has to be part of a “cohort” or “graduate.” It’s more of a community.

And down the block from Launchpoint, which is located in the same building as Benedictine University, is K’e” (from the Navajo word for community, Pam Slim’s Main Street storefront where small businesses can learn and grow. Pam calls her effort a “learning lab,” to see what small businesses need to grow and share best practices. She’s been consulting for twenty years, and she and I are aligned in our view that it’s all about collaboration.

Which is why, once a week, after Pam goes home to the kids, the “night shift” comes in to K’e’. That’s me and Phillip Blackerby, who run the Mesa Entrepreneurship Roundtable sponsored by the West Mesa CDC. We’ve been running it for five years now, and we have built a rich ecosystem for local entrepreneurs, most of whom will never apply to AIC or pitch at Venture Madness, but who have developed businesses that both employ people and do business with each other. They are the businesses that underpin the tech businesses, the infrastructure, if you will: the artists, the designers, the web developers, the genetic informaticists, the elder care specialists. We meet every week for ten weeks in the fall, ten weeks in the spring, and five weeks in the summer, because our type of entrepreneur can always use help, encouragement and realistic mentoring. (I’m tough.)

Several stores down on Main Street is Heat Sync Labs, a maker space that has been running in downtown Mesa in the evenings for years. Heat Sync Labs is for the tinkerers who need laser cutters, 3-D printers, and soldering irons. Still a different kind of entrepreneur.

With the blessings of the West Mesa CDC, we moved our program closer to downtown Mesa this time so we could be more a part of this growing ecosystem. Main Street and downtown Mesa have become its hub over the past five years, and with the coming of light rail, things are even better.

If you’ve ever wanted to start a company, or even just be your own boss, come and see us.

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