Phoenix Is Rapidly Becoming a Top Ecosystem for Hispanic Entrepreneurs

February 25, 2016

2:30 pm

According to the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce 2015 DATOS report there are more than three million Hispanic-owned firms in the U.S. with an aggregate revenue of $517.4 billion and Hispanic female firms are growing at a rate of 88 percent.

In Arizona, the number of Hispanic-owned businesses grew 70 percent from 2007 to 2012 with the majority of businesses being female-owned, according to the report.

“Phoenix is a hot place to be. There are advantages to Hispanics in Arizona, including great universities, a favorable tax rate and we don’t have a lot of the infrastructure challenges. While we’re still a new market, it’s going to be an appealing place to work as we build [our ecosystem],” Gonzalo A. de la Melena Jr., president and CEO of the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said.

One of the Chamber’s main goals is to match up a corporation’s investment goals with startups.

“Tech or non-tech, we are actively matching corporations that are looking to spend their money on women and minorities,” de la Melena said.

The cities, universities, co-working spaces and incubators are also putting more emphasis on this population of tech entrepreneurs.

Seed Spot, a nationally recognized socially conscious incubator, partnered with Univision for the “Vendeme tu Sueno / Pitch us your dream” competition, a part of Univision’s Contigo’s Hispanic Entrepreneurship Campaign. The inaugural event attracted 113 applicants who competed to win office space, mentorship, capital and media exposure; twenty went on to the Seed Spot boot camp.

“Seed Spot is committed to inclusion and diversity; through our partnership with Univision we are incredibly excited to nurture the dreams of Latino entrepreneurs and help them solve problems in the world through entrepreneurship,” said Seed Spot CEO and cofounder Courtney Klein.

Seed Spot Univision

Seed Spot & Univision top 20 finalists. Photo courtesy of Seed Spot.

The Office Pile, a co-working space, was founded by Francisco X. Aguirre, with the mission is to provide an affordable, multicultural, diverse and inclusive co-working space for women and Hispanic entrepreneurs.

“We’ve had 120-130 members come through the co-working space with 25 percent of them technology-based,” Aguirre said.

In January 2016, Aguirre launched the TOP Foundation, a project of the Fusion Foundation and a joint mission to advance education and entrepreneurship for minorities and women by providing office space, microloans, grants, mentorship, and scholarships.

Over the last decade, the Arizona tech sector has realized more wins and founders are choosing to stay and invest in the community.

Mario Martinez II, founder and CEO of 360 Vantage, sold his company to IMS Health for an undisclosed amount. Following the exit, he became an early-stage angel investor and mentor as well as chairs the 2016 Venture Madness competition and Startup AZ Foundation which help startups gain exposure to investors.

“The Arizona market is a great place to live, work and play. We have a lot more activity in the ecosystem since I started a company – it has come a long way,” Martinez said.

Maria Luna, CEO and cofounder of BRAVO, a tipping app that allows the user to pay a service professional through their smartphone, said she hopes to be an “agent of change for her community” and encourage Hispanic women to become an entrepreneur.

“I was the first one to finish high school, college and graduate school in my family. When I opened that door, my nieces progressed in their education after they saw my progress. [The population] needs to see one person making it and say ‘why not me?’” Luna said.

One of the most famous Arizona tech stories happened in 2004. Four undocumented students and members of the Carl Hayden Community High School Falcon’s Robotics Club and their instructors competed with their 800 dollar underwater robot in the finals of the Marine Advanced Technology Education Center’s Remotely Operated Vehicle Competition against a team from MIT and won. The victory was chronicled in a WIRED article and adapted to the big screen in the film “Spare Parts.” The Robotics Club still exists today.

Stephen Viramontes, cofounder of Assure Vote, said more Hispanic Millenials are gravitating to the tech field.

“With one foot in the the Hispanic community and one foot in mainstream, millennials are realizing that in order to be competitive you have to participate in STEM programs, and the attitude for Hispanics to be coders is growing,” Viramontes said.

According to the Greater Phoenix Economic Council, software and IT industry job growth in Arizona is projected to increase 25 percent over the next decade, compared to 18 percent nationally.

To keep up with the demand for talent, city programs are emerging to develop and maintain talent in Arizona. City of Phoenix Vice Mayor Daniel Valenzuela said education is the key to building and retaining our technology talent pool and closing the inequity gap in our workforce.

“Along with many efforts by our partners to promote coding and computer science classes for our youth, the Phoenix Union High School District, serving 95 percent students of color, will open their first Coding Academy this fall,” Valenzuela said.

The City of Phoenix offers weekly coding classes for young female students at the Burton Barr library and a Makerspace at the Gateway Community College is planned to help startups build prototypes.

“Programs like these not only ensure we develop and retain our top talent, but make it a priority to diversify our future workforce for 21st century jobs,” Valenzuela said.

Valenzuela was also involved in attracting Denver-based Galvanize, a programming and coding training program, to downtown Phoenix to help build out the talent pool.

Wherever a startup decides to build their company, being a techpreneur comes down to the endless pursuit of your vision.

“We’re all in the same playing field it doesn’t matter whether you’re Hispanic or not,” Martinez said. “The bottom line is that it’s on us and what we are willing to do, to pursue our vision. We look forward to as many people growing and scaling companies in Arizona.”

Make sure to follow these hashtags on social media to keep up on all the great things that will go down at Phoenix Startup Week: #PHXStartupWeek and #ChaseBasecamp.

This article is part of a Startup Week content series brought to you by Chase for Business. Startup Week is celebration of entrepreneurs in cities around the globe. Chase for Business is everything a business needs in one place, from expert advice to valuable products and services. Follow the Startup Week action here as we head to 7 cities in the coming months.

Photos courtesy of Seed Spot, Bravo, Aaron Kes Photography

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Tishin is a technology journalist and correspondent. She has written for TechCrunch, Demand Studios and Fitness, was the former Chief Editor of AZ Tech Beat and has regular network segments on local Phoenix affiliate stations. She's a veteran to CES and has covered many areas of technology ranging from 3D printing and game development to sport tech and funding.

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