The idea for this story came when I attended an Arizona Storytellers event at downtown Phoenix’s Co+Hoots, a coworking space where small business owners rent desks in a shared office. During each Arizona Storytellers, people go on stage and tell short stories about their lives, usually revolving around that night’s theme.
At Co+Hoots that night, energetic entrepreneurs ascended the stage one by one and shared their struggles of building a business amidst doubt, fear and setback. Each story ended on a note that soared so high, I couldn’t help but feel energized and in disbelief that these people lived in my city. Their striving and big goals seemed so separate from my life, and the lives of everybody else I know.
Until that point, I wasn’t aware that such an energetic entrepreneur scene existed in the Valley. Walmart ranks as the state’s largest employer, and although we have a lot of small businesses, they’re mostly construction or landscaping oriented. To find all these bright, passionate people hustling in the heart of Phoenix was intriguing, and I suspected others would be interested to learn about it, too.
So I pitched the article to Phoenix magazine, and spent a month interviewing entrepreneurs all over the Valley. I interviewed novices, not-so-novices, people starting technology firms, service firms, and even restaurants, although that didn’t make it into the story.
As I spoke with people, it became clear that those working in coworking spaces — the heart of this emerging entrepreneurial ecosystem — were creating something really special. What is an entrepreneurial ecosystem? So think of a natural ecosystem with trees, birds and bugs; they all feed off each other and help each other survive.
An entrepreneurial ecosystem is similar. Successful ones, like Silicon Valley, feature such characteristics as density, which helps people share ideas, readily available capital, for funding new ventures, and successful businesspeople willing to share the lessons they learned along the way.
Startup City, published in the January 2014 edition of Phoenix Magazine, talks about how Phoenix is developing its own entrepreneurial ecosystem. The city’s coworking spaces substitute for density in a city of sprawl, and various public and public-private organizations are helping to create policies spurring entrepreneurial growth. They include tax incentives for angel investors and big money prizes for promising ventures.
And many of Phoenix’s emerging companies are technology companies.
Click here to read about the entrepreneurs working to make it big in the Sonoran Desert.