Jenny Poon

Jenny Poon is the founder of Co+Hoots Phoenix and is bringing the concept to Benedictine University’s downtown Mesa campus to provide classes and mentoring to entrepeneurs starting new businesses.

Benedictine University’s Mesa campus will receive a significant rent reduction to help it grow, while the city also spends up to $2 million to add 10,000 square feet of office space to accommodate a new entrepreneurship program.

Benedictine and Co+Hoots, a major Phoenix co-working and business incubation company, will launch the new Co+Hoots Institute for Entrepreneurship at Benedictine University next year.

Benedictine, an Illinois-based Catholic University, opened in Mesa in 2013 and rents a city building at 225 W. Main St. across from city hall. The Mesa campus has an enrollment of 586 students, according to a city council report.

The council voted 7-0 to approve the lease amendment on Monday and welcomed Co+Hoots owners Odeen Domingo and his wife, Jenny Poon, to Mesa.

The entrepreneurship program – launched through a partnership between Co+Hoots and Benedictine – is expected to include classes and mentoring, matching students with entrepreneurs who can guide them in the creation of startup businesses. 

Benedictine’s lease with Mesa was extended from 15 to 25 years. A graduated series of rent reductions peak between this month and July 31, 2022, with a 70 percent reduction – from $666,600 annually to $199,998.

After, the lease reductions decline to 50 percent between 2022 and 2025 and 30 percent from 2025-2028.

Jeff McVay, Mesa’s downtown transformation manager, views the entrepreneurship program as a critical element of Mesa’s much-talked-about Innovation District.

The concept, first recommended by the Brookings Institution think tank in Washington, D.C., involves the encouragement of collaboration eventually turns new ideas into new companies based in Mesa.

“We are trying to create an entrepreneurship ecosystem,’’ McVay said. “The over-arching goal is Benedictine will have more space,’’ making it possible for them to expand, attracting more students and hiring more staff.

The break on the lease comes with some strings attached, he said.

“Every year, Benedictine will have to say, ‘this is what we accomplished with the savings’’ from the lease reduction, McVay said, with the city hoping Benedictine will build another 10,000 square feet on their own. “Their size is limited by the amount of faculty they have onboard and the space.’’

After the entrepreneurship program opens and students start interacting with mentors, McVay said the city is hoping new, innovative businesses will sprout.

“By the time they are done with the program, we hope they will open a business and they will do it in downtown Mesa,’’ he said.

He said he is convinced Co+Hoots is the perfect partner, an opinion echoed by several council members. 

McVay also said Co+Hoots is ranked as the number one co-working space in metro Phoenix because of its combination of facilities and expertise in launching businesses.

Kevin Broeckling, president of Benedictine’s Mesa campus, said Benedictine has grown from a budget of $2 million to $10 in six years and has awarded $4 ½ million in scholarships.

He said Benedictine’s partnership with Co+Hoots will serve as “the perfect complement’’ to Mesa’s Innovation District.

“We owe it to other people and to the community we serve to do good for others,’’ Broeckling said.

Among the businesses using space at Co+Hoots is Uber, the ubiquitous ride-sharing company. Uber used Co+Hoots as an office when it first entered the Arizona market and later opened a Southwest headquarters.

Co+Hoots rents office space, but it also helps entrepreneurs obtain the skills they need to become successful, through workshops, incubation services and a speaker series. 

Domingo said the entrepreneurship program includes skills to help students in the business world, whether they start their own business or not.

Those skills include critical thinking, team building, problem-solving, leadership and public speaking.

Cahoots describes the program on its web site as “an intensive entrepreneur immersion program to nurture, improve and accelerate students’ entrepreneurial traits and skills.’’

Domingo said 60 percent of Benedictine students are the first person in their family to attend college.

Co+Hoots started a non-profit in Phoenix aimed at helping to develop the untapped talents of the community in 2013.

“We hope to bring this program to other schools as well. This is a pilot program,’’ Domingo said. “The best thing you can do for an entrepreneur is to expose them to a network, introducing them to someone who can help them.’’

He said the program will start with 20 students and gradually grow by another 20 students per year.

“We can create an impact on their lives and also on the local economy,’’ Domingo said. “This aligns exactly with our values.’’

He said the lease signed by the council “represents a strategic partnership between Mesa and Benedictine University,’’ as well as an opportunity for Co+Hoots to expand.

“We believe in Mesa and what is happening in downtown Mesa,’’ Domingo said. “We will help these students create their own job.’’

Mesa City Councilman Jeremy Whittaker said he sought out Co+Hoots shortly after his election because part of his campaign centered on stimulating the creation of entrepreneurial businesses in Mesa.

He said he was  impressed by Co+Hoots and ended up joining Domingo and his wife in a charitable endeavor, building homes in Mexico.

“It was part of my goal, to support small business and entrepreneurship,’’ Whittaker said. “Everyone points to Co+Hoots as a shining example of what you can do for entrepreneurs.’’

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