Don’t dwell on the past. Create the future

By Joan Koerber-Walker, OTEF Chairman of the Board

As I have worked with our team to create the new OTEF Website over the last few weeks, I have been spending a lot of time looking at the past.  And there was lots to look at…

  • A great team
  • A five year history of past success as our community came together to engage, share ideas, and help others in the process at the Arizona Entrepreneurship Conferences.
  • Programs that helped people who really needed it to start something new in collaboration with great organizations like Seeds, Tumbleweeds, SARRC, and Gangplank. 

OTEF’s mission is about creating a better future for others by following the path of entrepreneurship.  While our programs during the year focus on groups that are “at-risk” – our fundraising is focused on helping the more self-sufficient members of our entrepreneurial community move forward faster too.

Our theme for AZEC10 this year in November is The Great Reset.  Our speakers will be talking about the things that entrepreneurs focus on:  access to capital, marketing, technology, innovation, and change.  All of the things that are needed to jump start a business and on a broader scale reset our economy. 

From the most successful of us to the most challenged, we all can look back to the past and see mistakes we have made, opportunities that have been missed, or projects that did not live up to their promise.  We also may be looking back on some past successes and spending too much time reveling in what has been when we could be working on what could be. 

Here at OTEF we are practicing what we preach.  This new website is part of it.  We have hit the reset.  You will find more information, new resources, recognition of the people who have helped along the way, and more.  Stay tuned, we are just getting started. 

We are helping to create the future.  It’s easy to do.  Just reach out, get involved and keep moving forward. 

The past after all is…past.


AZEC09 Breaks Fundraising Record

AZEC09 Logo

by Francine Hardaway

We had a very successful AZEC09 (formerly Fourth Annual Arizona Entrepreneurship Conference) last week. It was oversold, at the last minute. The bills aren’t all paid, and the sponsorship money hasn’t all arrived, but  I know for a fact that we raised the money to offer another program to the disadvantaged, and we are going to research and choose an agency to partner with now that we know we have the funds. Let me first thank Joan Koerber-Walker, Steven Groves, and Merlin Ward, board members who took their responsibility above and beyond to help put on the conference.

And let me also thank Life Pilot, Microsoft, InfusionSoft,, the Business Journal, and EmpowHer for their major sponsorships in this difficult year. A whole host of in-kind sponsors, listed on the event site, also helped make this possible.

A few highlights for me (I didn’t see everything):

  • Kevin Surace’s excellent keynote on green building and its role in America’s competitiveness;
  • Merlin Mann’s admonition that we check our email every five minutes because we can’t stand uncertainty, not because there’s anything important;
  • Michelle Robson’s courageous slide of her first company name and logo; an incredibly good panel on health care entrepreneurship consisting of three doctors who see what’s wrong with the system and are working to fix it;
  • Tara Hunt, Joan, and me singing an original song made up by a fan of Tara’s; and
  • Dan Gillmor helping Mary Kay Reinhart of the Arizona Guardian move from old to new media.

And today I got a note in the mail from a man I know from the gym. He’s 94, and a retired entrepreneur himself. The handwritten note says: “this cheeseball wants to support your Foundation,” and enclosed was a check for $50. This was a response to a blog post I wrote while planning the conference complaining about the lack of community support for entrepreneurship. Clearly, I was wrong.

Blueprint for Survival helps laid off workers

This spring, the Foundation Board voted to target out of work and laid off residents of Maricopa County for our entrepreneurial training.  The Board agreed that enough people were laid off that wide-ranging outreach was necessary to help people consider alternatives to the traditional job search.

Using as a template the LaunchPad initiative of the Kauffman Foundation, which targeted the same population, we developed a three-hour workshop called Blueprint for Survival, and offered it six times this spring to crowds that overflowed the room (after the first time).

We had a great deal of community participation in the program, especially from one person, Derek Neighbors, co-founder of Integrum Technologies and Gangplank, who volunteered his time and talent to help us offer the program, and actually also hosted it at Gangplank four times.

Gangplank, which itself is a community service, has joined forces with us to help struggling entrepreneurs get started and grow. It will be a prime player in our major fundraiser this fall, the 4th Annual Arizona Entrepreneurship Conference

AZEC08 sets a new standard for success

The money to run a new program this spring was raised last week in one fundraiser, in the middle of the financial meltdown, by a small, hands-on committed board and a larger group of supporters and volunteers. We are going to be in talks with the Casey Foundation, a licensee of foster children, to teach entrepreneurial skills to kids transitioning out of the foster care system.  This is a population dear to our hearts.

I cannot thank our board, chaired by Joan Koerber Walker, and consisting of Patrick Sullivan Jr., Dave Lee, Rhonda Lintner, Steven Groves, and Merlin Ward, enough. Nor the guys at Gangplank, a local accelerator for software startups. Nor our sponsors.

Wednesday’s fundraiser, the Third Annual Arizona Entrepreneurship Conference,  was one of the best days of my life. Not only did 250 people show up in the middle of a recession to see each other and help each other, but the feeling of hope and optimism among the entrepreneurs and funders in the room was palpable. Those who were not overtly hopeful were at least indifferent to the roiling world around them in the way only entrepreneurs can be. These are the skills the Foundation wants to share with out disadvantaged populations: the feeling of empowerment, the tolerance of risk, the acceptance of both failure and success as equally instructional, and  the business acumen to accomplish more than sticking to just a survival-wage job.

I stood looking out at the crowd of people who believe the power of thecommunity to manifest its own economy and I nearly wept. Comments from more objective attendees and some of the presentations from the speakers, are here.

And we raised more money than we have ever raised with these conferences in the past. This is largely because of Microsoft, whose BizSpark program for startups just happened to launch in Arizona at the conference. Microsoft selected us as a network partner for BizSpark, and then put what for us is a large amount of money into the conference. We also had a great law firm sponsor this year, Osborn Maledon , and a new sponsor, C-Scan Technologies, auditor of clean rooms, and another new sponsor, HSLFinancial
And our loyal sponsors Infusionsoft ,Wells Fargo , the City of Tempe ,and the Business Journal all stuck with us!

People who weren’t in a position to contribute treasure contributed time and talent, most specifically Gangplank the East Valley accelerator and Silent Dispatch, who gave us the geek equivalent of “loaned executives.” And without Rhonda Lintner from C-Scan, Steve Groves from Silent Dispatch, Merlin Ward from and Brian Shaler from Bit Gravity, I would have been dead in the water. There’s more, but I will spare you.

There were several notable moments for me that I’d like to recap:

  • GaryVee pounding his shoe on the podium and telling people to know their customers
  • Matt Mullenweg  telling us he started Akismet because he didn’t want his mother to see the spam on blogs
  • Dan Willis of Microsoft announcing the BizSpark program in Phoenix, a stop on its launch roadshow that he added just for us
  • Allan Kaplan of Limelight Networks telling us that, indeed, you could raise large amounts of money in Arizona if you had a good enough plan and sharing with us how he had done it multiple times
  • Shahi Ghanem, CEO of announcing the launch of its new site on which women share their health experiences
  • Jonathan Smith, President of Earth911 ,telling us the company was going to start monitoring where recycled products go after they are responsibly disposed of by the last user after that horrifying 60 Minutes Video a couple of weeks ago about e-waste dumped in China.

The Foundation’s concept of providing information to entrepreneurs who will pay to receive it, and turning around to use the proceeds to teach future entrepreneurs who cannot, seems to be working. If you want to see the photos and the video, the links to aggregated feeds are here.

Chris Pirillo to Live Stream in to AZEC08

Chris Pirillo To Speak at the Third Annual Arizona Entrepreneurship Conference

Our annual fundraiser, the biggest gathering of entrepreneurs in Arizona, is coming up on November 19th. If you’d like to support us, register here: A stellar group of entrepreneurs will gather to hear some of the biggest names in recent startup history, and the proceeds will come to us!

Chris Pirillo, Geek, Entrepreneur, Early Adopter, and Media Personality, will live stream into the Third Annual Arizona Entrepreneurship Conference from Seattle.