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Building Tucson Businesses: Startup Tucson strengthens economy with resources

Building Tucson Businesses: Startup Tucson strengthens economy with resources

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You know that idea you’ve always had about a business you could start? You’re pretty sure it could work — maybe even give you extra income or the independence you want.

If you ever thought about starting up your own business, you should know about Startup Tucson.

Startup Tucson provides the feedback, ideas and resources you need to turn a beginning idea into a successful business. I met with Dre Thompson, executive vice president, to learn how they do it.

Thompson told me about Alan Kohler, a teacher with an idea for a baked goods company that uses heritage and native grains and flours, such as mesquite flour.

Working with Startup Tucson, Kohler refined his business concept and went on to win first prize in the food product category at IdeaFunding, Startup Tucson’s annual pitch competition. First prize was $5,000, which helped him launch his first line of mesquite flour cookies.

One of the judges in the competition owned a restaurant and was so impressed with Kohler’s company (and his delicious cookies) that he placed an order to stock the product in his restaurant that same day. Because of the support he received, Kohler now has a robust online store and sells out in a matter of hours at every market. His product is available in numerous local groceries and restaurants and he is continuing to grow his business.

As Thompson related, Kohler’s story is a perfect example of an entrepreneur beginning with just an idea, some talent and a lot of hustle. With Startup Tucson’s resources and connections, Arizona Baking Company became a thriving business in only a matter of months.

“Startup Tucson has become the concierge for all things related to launching a business,” said Fletcher McCusker, board chair of Startup Tucson. “From networking to connectivity, finding physical space, education, pitch competitions, showcase events or coffee and drinks, the go-to organization is Startup Tucson.”

Indeed, concierge is the appropriate term for what Startup Tucson does for entrepreneurs. It doesn’t matter if you are a first time founder, an existing small business, or a scaling business — Startup Tucson has resources available.

Thompson describes what Startup Tucson does as an ecosystem. Boston Consulting Group defines a business ecosystem as a dynamic group of largely independent economic players, creating products or services that together constitute a coherent solution. That’s Startup in a nutshell.

Before Startup Tucson was founded in 2012, resources in Tucson supporting small business were predominantly silo operations. They functioned independently, and interactions and collaborations between them were usually one-off occurrences. So you can imagine the challenge a new business faced as it tried to find the best way forward.

Startup Tucson aggregated these resources, and today acts as the tour guide, helping entrepreneurs focus and feel as if there is a network of business resources ready to help. has 76 interconnected, collaborative resources and organizations that exist to support Tucson’s business community. If an entrepreneur needs something, they’ll likely find a solution here.

The real measure of success are results. Startup Tucson alumni have created over 300 new jobs, and raised over $34 million in invested capital. This is important because small businesses and startups are responsible for 90% of all new jobs in the U.S.

There are currently 244 diverse members of this community progressing toward their goals: 75% are women-owned; 45% of the ventures are owned by people of color; 15% are veteran-owned; and 20% are student-owned. And they all are in various stages of startup — about one-third are in idea stage; one-third in launch stage; and one-third in growth stage.

Thompson describes Startup Tucson’s culture as nurturing. If you’re thinking about starting a business, she invites you to hang out in what she calls “an inquisitive space” until you are ready. Talk to peers. Ask questions. Lay out a plan. Explore your options.

Entrepreneurship is challenging. One needs to step into it voluntarily. Startup Tucson helps the entrepreneur assess the pros and cons of moving forward and determine resources that can support them on their daunting journey.

As Startup Tucson’s mission states: We want to make entrepreneurship accessible and welcoming to all.

Ken Cook is the co-founder of How to Who, a program on how to build strong business relationships. Learn more at

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