AZEC08 sets a new standard for success

Nov 22, 2008

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.

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