GUANAJUATO, Mexico — An effort in Tucson to incubate entrepreneurs on both sides of the border now has the backing of former Mexican President Vicente Fox.

A delegation from Tucson made the partnership pitch to Fox at a meeting Tuesday at his foundation, Centro Fox, in Guanajuato, Mexico.

Fox, who was Mexico’s president from 2000 to 2006, has focused on education programs and nurturing young entrepreneurs since he left office. It was those efforts that prompted government, education and business leaders from Tucson to make the trip to Mexico.

Fox, 75, listened intently as Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild asked him to support an initiative to bring Mexican entrepreneurs to Tucson to incubate their startup companies.

The goal is to have the entrepreneurs operate in both countries with Tucson being the entryway into the market. As more startups have success with this partnership, more will see Tucson as the place to begin, organizers of the plan hope.

After a nearly two-hour meeting Fox agreed to the partnership, extending a handshake to the mayor. And Fox accepted an invitation to come to Tucson in January to meet his new U.S. partners.

As part of the partnership, Centro Fox will host a nationwide entrepreneur innovation challenge in Mexico, with the winners going to Tucson to work with startup mentors to refine their ideas.

In exchange, Fox asked that Pima Community College work with him to bring professors to Guanajuato to help replicate the two-year college certification.

Mexico does not have a community college system, which Fox said can serve a larger population and also students who cannot afford university tuition.

Although manufacturing jobs have grown in the Bajio region around Guanajuato, Fox said he wants youth to be prepared for when those jobs leave Mexico, as they left the United States.

“Manufacturing is here for a while, he said. “Then they’ll go to Guatemala, then to El Salvador.”

Getting students interested in the tech sector is the only way to stay ahead of that inevitable scenario, Fox said.

“You want me to send people there,” Fox said. “Help me help people here.”

Pima College Chancellor Lee Lambert told the president he agreed the relationship should be reciprocal and said a presence at Centro Fox would be arranged.

Justin Williams, founder and CEO of Startup Tucson, said he was overwhelmed with the meeting’s turnout.

“We came to talk about Startup Tucson and Startup Mexico,” he said. “We came away with a regional economic development agreement with multiple purposes.”

Contact reporter Gabriela Rico at 573-4232 or grico@tucson.com

Reporter

Gabriela's newspaper career began at the Tucson Citizen in '86 as the "movie-times girl" where she'd call local theaters for showtimes. Since then, she's written about crime, education, immigration, trade and business. She's been with the Star since 2007.