Mesa, ASU to partner on tech business accelerator program - East Valley Tribune: Mesa

Mesa, ASU to partner on tech business accelerator program

Polytechnic campus to be program’s home

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Posted: Wednesday, May 22, 2013 5:57 am | Updated: 7:40 am, Mon May 27, 2013.

The City of Mesa and Arizona State University are partnering on a technology business accelerator site, to be located at the ASU Polytechnic campus, in the southeast part of the city.

Announced Monday, the accelerator program — to be located in the shadows of Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport — is expected to focus on small technology business that have a plan, but need help transitioning from a startup to the greater marketplace, said Mesa councilman Scott Somers.

“We don’t have to look far to see the types of things we want to see happen in this specific area,” Mesa mayor Scott Smith added. “Gateway is where exciting things have happened, they are happening and they will happen.”

As part of the agreement, ASU will provide 6,500 square-feet of office space and meeting space. Mesa will provide the funding, establish a governing board to oversee the program and recruit businesses.

“When you can accelerate those types of businesses, that’s where you really create high-wage, high value jobs,” Somers said.

The goal for the Phoenix-Mesa-Gateway area is to create 100,000 high-wage jobs, he said.

In one example, Able Engineering was struggling to make the leap from three, unpaid startup employees to its current roster of 400, Smith said. As the firm grew and transitioned, it was close to relocating out-of-state before being able to connect with the Mesa Economic Development team, which helped facilitated a local opportunity. Able unveiled a new 191,000-square-foot Mesa site to much fanfare just last month.

“This is the kind of activity we want to see,” Smith said. “We want to see that entrepreneurial spirit to be connected with the resources that ASU Poly brings to us and an environment that includes a successful airport, a high security lab (AZ Labs), companies like Able with all the academia and all the energy that is happen at Gateway.”

The Gateway area is a natural fit for the business accelerator, Smith said. However, because the Polytechnic campus sits on what was once an Air Force base, there are specific guidelines and restrictions on the land use, he noted.

“When the Air Force base was transitioned into other uses, there were very specific guidelines put on the property transfer and so the city, university, airport and others have to work within those guidelines,” Smith said. “To fully accomplish what we needed to with this accelerator, we had to be cognizant that this is an educational institution, that the land was conveyed for educational purposes.”

The accelerator had to both fit into the university’s mission as an educational institution while also completing the goals of the city for a business incubator, he said.

“Certainly at the Polytechnic campus, where we have a very strong focus on entrepreneurship and a very strong focus on industry engagement, we believe this is the perfect location for this partnership,” said Mitzi Montoya, ASU vice provost and dean of the College of Technology and Innovation.

“We are attracting students to degree programs who want to be entrepreneurs while they are working on their degrees,” she added.

The accelerator would connect ASU students, faculty and alumni to startup business, Montoya said. Additionally, startups, who may not have the capital to pay many employees could create internship opportunities for students while they’re in school.

“This is a perfect partnership to provide these student-led and faculty-generated companies a place to go, continue to grow and more importantly to stay in Arizona and contribute to Mesa’s economic development,” she said.

ASU is launching new degrees at the campus in the fall, including manufacturing engineering, software engineering, information technology, health systems management and product development that will tie in perfectly with the business accelerator, she said.

“We are very excited to have this partnership with Mesa where we will continue to expand, create and grow an ecosystem for technology growth,” Montoya said.

The area will hopefully become an “innovation cluster,” in connection with the airport, the university and now this accelerator, Montoya said.

“When we talk about the types of students that we want to keep around, those students who are doing that type of high-end research and development as part of their studies, those are the kind of kids we want to keep in the state,” Somers said. “Technology incubators and technology accelerators have paid dividends to the communities that have invested in them.”

The partnership has began in earnest almost four years ago, but a series of delays prevented it from being created sooner, Somers said.

“We do an admirable job in this state, especially out at Polytechnic, at attracting people who are entrepreneurial and bright and start great businesses,” Smith said. “But what we don’t do a very good job is in nurturing those businesses and getting them to where they are larger businesses.”

The Mesa City Council will vote to approve the partnership in June and money in the city budget has already been allocated, said William Jabjiniak, Mesa economic development director. Next year, the city has budgeted about $150,000 for the program.

The Mesa Technology Accelerator will be located at 6113 S. Kent St.

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