Arizona State University begins a $200,000 program today to match the school’s expertise with entrepreneurs in the Valley who need help finding venture capital for their fledging high-technology and life sciences businesses.
The initiative, launched by the school’s office of economic affairs and called ASU Technopolis, will stimulate the region’s technology-based economy and transform the area into an internationally recognized "technology city," the university said.
"We do have a number of entrepreneurial classes in W.P. Carey School of Business and Fulton School of Engineering, but this is the very first largescale effort to educate technology and life science entrepreneurs," said Julia Rosen, director of economic affairs. "ASU has a unique responsibility to the greater Phoenix area because we are the only major research university in the area.
We hope to leverage not only the wonderful research within the university and at the Translational Genomics Research Institute, but also the deep skills of the technology employment base and the fact greater Phoenix has a wonderful climate for business."
While the area is considered a hot spot for entrepreneurship and boasts a high number of "gazelle" companies, it lacks venture capital, according to a report released earlier this year by the ASU’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy. The report said the state had no public programs to leverage or attract funding and makes no public investment in venture capital.
Rosen says Technopolis is an effort to change that perception by finding money for start-up companies.
"The better trained, the more articulate, the more passionate entrepreneurs are, the more likely they are to receive outside funding be it venture capital, money from (wealthy) investors or federal grants," she said.
ASU’s program will help entrepreneurs create viable business plans, manage fastgrowing companies, access public and private funding and connect with each other, business and technical experts.
The program is another example of ASU President Michael Crow’s effort to pitch the value of the area, said Roc Arnett, president of the East Valley Partnership, a civic and business group. Arnett said he knows of several venture capitalists who have money to spend, especially in the high-tech field.
"I can see there is a lot of synergism that is going to take place,"Arnett said. "And with someone as solid and as exciting, motivated and directed as ASU, it’s going to be phenomenal. There are entrepreneurs out there that are just waiting for the opportunity, guys that have ideas, guys that have had inventions in the medical or high-tech area . . . that with just a little bit of work, those guys are going to come running out of the bushes."
The program is modeled after a program in San Diego that has shown great promise for that city’s entrepreneurs community there, said Todd Bankofier, Arizona Technology Council president.
He plans to suggest that entrepreneurs in his organization go through the program. While the council is developing a virtual business center on the Internet that will list everything from federal grants for entrepreneurs to investment bankers in the area, ASU’s program will complement its efforts, Bankofier said.
"It’s an enhancement to what we do," he said. "We’re not an academic institution that provides classroom time, seat time if you will, for entrepreneurs. They need to have a location to go that meets on a regular basis with concentrated curriculum that they can use."
Rick Weddle, president of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council, said the effort is needed.
"The concept of providing mentoring and technical assistance and nurturing is fairly well proven nationwide in that it helps reduce the mortality rate of start-up ventures," he said.
ASU Technopolis’ first program will be offered beginning Nov. 5. Called Launch Pad. The university says it’s a rigorous eightweek process that will coach entrepreneurs to produce a quality business plan.
The program will also provide a series of in-depth workshops to help entrepreneurs access federal funding grants that range from $100,000 to $750,000.
ASU chose Tech Continuum Ventures to coach those in the program. The business led by former technology chief executive officers Dan O’Neill and Sharon Ballard.
Ballard worked on a similar program at the University of California at San Diego where she helped obtain more than 30 Small Business Innovation Research grants from the federal government. O’Neill, co-founder of a custom software development firm in Phoenix that was successful in part because of $25 million in venture capital, said the soft economy had resulted in a demand for funding because entrepreneurial ventures are started when people lose jobs.
"What we’ve seen happen is there is a just a tremendous, tremendous number of technology and life science start-up companies out there that have done a great job of kind of gutting it through for the last three years, and we’re ready to see an explosion as the economy recovers," he said.
The university hopes the program becomes more selfsufficient over time through participation fees and sponsorships.
"Like any start-up business so to speak, in this case a program that supports businesses, there is an investment up front and the expectation there will some revenue," said Rob Melnick, ASU associate vice president of economic affairs.
"That said, this is not a net revenue generator, nor will it ever be for ASU. This is part of ASU’s focus on extending its reach and benefits to the economic community. The purpose of the program is to share some of ASU’s resources, in this case, both capital resources and expertise, for purposes of training."