AZ Technology and Innovation: Mesa Technology Accelerator

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LaunchPoint, the Mesa Technology Accelerator, plans to stimulate the establishment and growth of small technology-based companies and other growth oriented businesses. It’s a collaboration between Mesa and Arizona State University. Mesa City Councilmember Scott Somers talks about LaunchPoint.

Ted Simons: In tonight's focus on Arizona technology and innovation, we look at a new tech accelerator that was announced in Mesa yesterday. It's called LaunchPoint, and it's a collaboration between Mesa and ASU. The goal is to stimulate the establishment and growth of small tech-based companies and other growth-oriented businesses, and for more we welcome Mesa city councilman, Scott Somers. Thanks for joining us.

Scott Somers: Thanks for having me.

Ted Simons: What is LaunchPoint?

Scott Somers: LaunchPoint is a technology accelerator, and what we are focusing on are small businesses that are looking at technology as their main business, and they -- they're transitioning from the idea board into the marketplace. And we're going to provide them with some assistance.

Ted Simons: When you say a technology accelerator, we've done these shows before, an accelerator means you got the wheel rolling, we'll help you accelerate.

Scott Somers: That's exactly what that means. It's one step beyond an incubator, which helps build ideas. The accelerator helps take those ideas and market them.

Scott Somers: How do you do that?

Scott Somers: Well, you do that with a lot of support from the University who has a great business school, we have consultants that will help work in information technology, human resources, we have some in finance, we'll help them set up financing with angel financing, because that's one of the biggest obstacles of going to market, trying to find that financing.

Ted Simons: I was going to say, getting access to capital, seems like every time we talk about small businesses and ventures, the whole nine yards, getting that access to capital is major.

Scott Somers: And you've heard that from a lot of great guests. I know Barry Barry Broome is with the greater Phoenix economic council, has talked about one of the areas Arizona struggles with are those venture capitals, the angel funding, the folks who will provide the financing so that these innovative ideas can turn into small businesses and jobs.

Ted Simons: Providing guidance, insight, support by way of consultants. Who are these consultants?

Scott Somers: Well, they're consultants who are experts in their field. I mentioned a few, not by name, but information technology, human resources, business plan development, and marketing. Marketing is important for these businesses to get their name out there and let people know what their products are.

Ted Simons: Trouble-shooting big factor too.

Scott Somers: Trouble-shooting is a tremendous factor, sure.

Ted Simons: How do you decide what kind of company to help accelerate? Is there a decision process? Is there a winnowing process?

Scott Somers: There are a lot of types of incubators, accelerators. And you can have multiple accelerators in the community. Chandler has a fantastic one on the price corridor. What we did when we were looking at this idea is we looked at what it was our community wanted to focus on. What were our economic goals, what were our strengths? And in Mesa and around the gateway airport, and with ASU's Polytechnic campus, what rose to the top were high-tech businesses. Those -- The small businesses that really need a hand up.

Ted Simons: And this is located across the street from the airport.

Scott Somers: It's in a wonderful place. I've been to a lot of business accelerators in researching this project, and I found that some of them were located near an airport. Many of them were attached to a university, some of them even had a foreign trade zone or military reuse zone over the area they were located. None of them had all of that right on top of each other and that's what we have at the Phoenix-Mesa gateway airport.

Ted Simons: How long did it did -- Get this idea going from hey, let's do this to, hey, it's a done deal?

Scott Somers: It -- Longer than you would think. It's been about seven years. And it's been seven years because there's some complexities. Not only do we have all these strengths of the former military base and the reuse zone, the foreign trade zone, but there's also that intergovernmental red tape that comes with that. But while it took a long time to come to fruition, what didn't take a long time was for people to recognize the vision. And that this was a good idea. Everybody from Barry Broome to President Crowe to our staff and the mayor of Phoenix said -- Excuse me, mayor of Mesa, mayor of Phoenix too, said what a great place for this.

Ted Simons: So we're talking about launching LaunchPoint, which is, there's also something called landing pad. What is that?

Scott Somers: That is probably something for another show.

Ted Simons: OK, all right.

Scott Somers: We're going to let that one go.

Ted Simons: It sounds like the idea of -- You're not ready for LaunchPoint, sounds like it could be an incubator thing.

Scott Somers: It could be an incubator -- One of the things -- One of the ideas that is unique about this is that LaunchPoint itself is going to be a physical place, a physical presence. So we're going to take those high-tech companies, we're going to locate them in the accelerator, but there are going to be other ideas, or maybe even some technology ideas that aren't ready to locate there but could really use the assistance. So we're going to extend those services through virtual technology to other parts of our state. So this -- In some ways it's not just a Mesa centric idea, it is a regional, even state-wide idea.

Ted Simons: And thus a launch pad for those not ready for LaunchPoint. The idea is to grow tech business to create jobs. How do you know it's going to work?

Scott Somers: Well, I would say when you look at accelerators and incubators, they've been tremendously successful everywhere. I would also admit not every idea would work. But knowing what I know about these accelerators and what I've learned over these past seven years, I think this idea is going to work splendidly. Will every company that we bring in succeed? Probably not. But if we can help one or two or ten or 150 companies build and locate in the valley, potential for hundreds of high-tech jobs, high-wage jobs, and that's really our goal. The goal for the gateway area is 100,000 high-wage jobs. In order to accomplish that, we need every tool in the toolbox we can get, and this idea is going to help.

Ted Simons: Last question, those of us who have been here a while think of Mesa as a quiet place, not a heck of a lot happening, a quaint main street and let's go take a nap. Mesa has changed a lot here in the last decade or so, even less time than that. What's going on out there?

Scott Somers: New visions. Fresh leadership. New ideas. And I think you have city management and city council who aren't afraid to fail from time to time and take a risk. And our voters, our residents have seen that, and they're willing and ready to take the risk too because they're investing in the infrastructure, the bonds that pay for sewer and water, and streets that is necessary to grow the businesses out there. And not only that, it's a regional approach. The mayors of Gilbert, the mayor in Chandler, I said it before, the mayor of Phoenix have been involved in how do we take the Mesa gateway area, the airport, which is in Mesa, but it's a regional, it's a community asset. And everybody's involved.

Ted Simons: Well, congratulations on this, good luck with it. It's good to have you here.

Scott Somers: Thank you.

Ted Simons: Thanks for joining us.

Scott Somers: Thank you very much.

Scott Somers:Councilmember, Mesa City;

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