Breaking Down Barriers to Entrepreneurship Starts with Messaging

With the rise in startup activity around the country, more local organizations are emerging to help provide resources, training, education, and funding to support underserved communities and their dreams to build a business. At Techstars Startup Week Phoenix 2018 powered by Chase for Business, leaders from Phoenix-based organizations discussed how they help break down barriers to entry for entrepreneurs.

The panelists included: Ji Mi Choi, Associate Vice President of ASU’s  Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development, Tom Espinoza, CEO of  Raza Development Fund, Koran Hardimon, National Board Member of Seed Spot, Phil Potter, CEO of The Armory, and moderated by Barbara Tripp, Business Banking Market Manager at Chase.

Are Companies Sending the Right Message?

There are plenty of companies and corporations talking about building a diverse and inclusive culture, but what steps are they taking to attract people?

Hardimon said that if companies, incubators, or organizations aren’t doing any social modeling, then it’s going to be hard to attract those people. Part of the barrier lies in the messaging and marketing of these opportunities to diverse communities.

“When you look at the program, the first thing that we see is the [marketing] pamphlet, [mainly] white males or females, and they don’t look like us,” Hardimon said.

At SEED SPOT, for any program targeting a certain community, they ensure representation from that community to bring a level of comfort and inclusion to the founders.

“[With our programs,] we have mentors and resources from that community. It’s not just about the diversity, it’s about do they feel included. [We breakdown] some of those barriers to entry so people can do what they really want to do,” Koran said. “When you don’t see somebody who is doing it, you may begin to believe you can’t do it.”

Speakers from left, Tom Espinoza, Phil Potter, Ji Mi Choi, and Koran Hardimon. Photo by: Dave Seibert

Veterans Have Barriers Too

The main barriers to entrepreneurship or senior level leadership for veterans is dealing with the public perception about their mental state when they enter civilian life, and understanding they have skills ripe for startup life.

“The narrative is that ‘we are broken,’ we have PTSD, and we’re homeless. In fact, the PTSD is the same in the public and the unemployment is lower with military people. We publicly reject the ‘we are broken’ narrative,” Potter said.


“If you think about what they do in a uniform and what the entrepreneur deals with – uncertainty, risk, [being] mission-focused and team-focused – they’ve been in lots of situations that maps directly to the entrepreneurship community.”

When there are barriers for veterans to overcome, they will approach challenges like a mission, immerse themselves in the task and find resources and people to help them accomplish goals.

“It’s not just a knowledge gap – there are certain knowledge gaps that we all possess, but they are fillable – we approach this as an action gap more so than a knowledge gap,” Potter said. “Per our Veteran ethos, we work very well with small teams, and pull each other forward.

Find the Bridge

If you are thinking about joining a local program, the panelists suggest reviewing the curriculum, mentors, and partners that will help you bridge networks and build your business. At The Armory, Potter is helping strength the veteran community through partnerships.

“There is strength in the veteran community to partner, [and] you get the resources to help you build. You can see ecosystem churning around these partnerships,” Potter said.


“When you have an organization that works with a specific culture, it has to have that trust and build on that trust. [Find out] about the services being offered, the pipeline and referral source, and know what organizations are doing what things to create efficiency,” Choi said.

Read more about the Phoenix startup ecosystem on TechCo

This article is part of a Techstars Startup Week content series brought to you by CHASE for BUSINESS. Techstars 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. Find business news, stories, insights and expert tips all in one place at

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Written by:
Tishin is a technology journalist and correspondent. She has written for TechCrunch, Demand Studios and Fitness, and has regular network segments on local Phoenix affiliate stations. She holds a Master's degree in Clinical and Sport psychology, and has covered many areas of technology ranging from 3D printing and game development to neurotech and funding for over 15 years.
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