In her role as project manager at Surprise’s AZ TechCelerator, Debra Roubik brings a unique blend of education and strategic guidance to the young businesses based there, teaching business owners how to analyse and implement new strategies. Having been an entrepreneur and business owner herself, she is ideally suited to helping the AZ TechCelerator deliver for the local business community.
Here, Debra shares her insights on what the TechCelerator has delivered so far, and what the future holds.
What is the AZ TechCelerator and how did it come into being?
June of 2009 was the lowest point of the Great Recession, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research, but at the same time, economic gardening became a hot trend in economic development. With economic gardening, instead of recruiting new employers and competing with every other city in the country, a city would focus on growing their own jobs by supporting local businesses.
In line with this trend, Jeanine Jerkovic, the visionary leader of the Economic Development Department, came up with the revolutionary idea to grow jobs from within by supporting entrepreneurs and early-stage start-ups. An enlightened City Council embraced it wholeheartedly and endorsed setting it up in an abandoned city hall. The AZ TechCelerator opened its doors in 2010, and in 2015 the space was renovated again.
Please tell us about the businesses that use the AZ TechCelerator. How does the programme help businesses grow?
At this point, we have 30 businesses housed in the AZ TechCelerator. The graduation policy lays out a timeline for the companies to expend progressively higher fees for their space until graduation three years later. However, many bioscience companies can take more than ten years to reach profitability. So, we have an Advisory Committee that makes graduation decisions on a case-by-case basis.
Ten of our current companies hold space in the health or medical fields. Five of those ten companies are women-owned or partially women-owned, which is remarkable given that a BioBuzz survey signalled that only 28% of respondents had a female founder in the bio-health field.
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Can you share any standout examples of successes and how that has benefitted the wider Surprise community?
VetLink Solutions is one of our current success stories. It provides more than $28m dollars annually of additional benefits to service veterans through an innovative collaboration model. The company started with three founders and now provides 25 jobs to the community. Another company, Smiles by Delivery, provides mobile dental care and has grown from two female founders to more than 20 employees.
We also house a medical device company, ReSuture, that has won multiple grant and pitch competition awards. It has revolutionary technology that provides medical residents with simulated surgical experiences.
In addition, we house mentors for our client companies such as No Boundaries Marketing. This company is actively involved in the marketing tactics for our companies and for the TechCelerator itself.
What are your aspirations for the AZ TechCelerator?
Currently our goals are geared toward marrying workforce development with entrepreneurism in the fields that are of highest demand. Our vision is to open a new facility that blurs the lines between training and inventing. We are hoping to make some impressive announcements in this area in the fall of this year.
Also we are striving to diversify the gender and racial make-up of our entrepreneurs. We spend an extensive amount of time reaching out to female groups and groups of diverse populations.
What is the InBIA Soft Landings network and how does this relate to the TechCelerator?
The InBIA Soft Landings network provides visibility for centres that excel in serving foreign companies that want to expand into international markets. By bestowing a year of no-cost space, a foreign business can “test the waters” without burning through a lot of its cash.
To these foreign companies, the AZ TechCelerator provides one no-cost membership to our Beehive co-working space and all of the amenities that come with membership. This includes access to our mentors, educational experiences, guidance from our team and membership in local ecosystem groups such as the Arizona Small Business Association and the AZ Tech Council.
Our mentors have expertise in international trade, logistics, supply chain, marketing, accounting and grant writing. In addition, one of our mentors is multilingual and can assist with the feasibility of trade up and down North America.
To find out more about the clients at AZ TechCelerator and latest news, visit www.aztechcelerator.com.