Exploring Arizona’s Entrepreneurial Support Hubs E27
For years now, Arizona has caught the nation’s attention as the “Silicon Desert”, a major hot spot for technology companies and budding startups. Between the state’s lower business costs, more affordable standard of living and growing talent pool, it’s no surprise that Phoenix and Tucson are rapidly climbing the ranks of emerging international startup ecosystems.
The June 2022 episode of the Arizona Technology Council’s AZTechCast podcast featured startup ecosystem experts including Stephanie Bermudez, founder & CEO of Startup Unidos; Eric Smith, executive director of The University of Arizona Center for Innovation; and Diana Vowels, CEO of StartupAZ. These leaders joined Karen Nowicki, president and owner of Phoenix Business RadioX, and Steve Zylstra, president and CEO of the Arizona Technology Council, in discussing the statewide entrepreneurial support hubs that are helping to elevate technology-minded startup founders.
Throughout this hour-long episode, this panel of startup experts spoke at length about the evolution of Arizona’s regional startup ecosystems over the past five to ten years. Arizona used to be where companies put their back offices or inside sales operations because large technology companies did not realize the full potential of Arizona. At the time, startup ecosystems were also successful independently, but had not yet come together to support companies across the state. Over the past several years, the group of panelists has been very impressed by how the pieces are coming together to collectively support the growth of up-and-coming startup founders and their ventures.
The University of Arizona Center for Innovation (UACI) is a startup incubator network with locations across the Southern Arizona region. The UACI offers leaders of science and technology startups the expertise, connections to the University of Arizona, incubation programs and office and lab space needed to turn ideas and inventions into strong, scalable and sustainable businesses that ultimately provide high-paying jobs and fuel Southern Arizona’s economy.
As Arizona’s leading incubation organization with nearly two decades of successful outcomes, UACI is a critical component of Arizona’s innovation ecosystem. This is done through providing access to people, programming and places that help entrepreneurs take their companies from idea to market.
Startups go through a structured program that takes them through a continuum of education provided by mentors, advisors and community collaborators. The University of Arizona Center for Innovation also provides access to service providers, industry cluster groups, interns and connections to potential customers and strategic partners. Entrepreneurs utilize various physical spaces that include offices, wet and dry labs, meeting rooms, a prototyping center, collaboration areas and the infrastructure to support these spaces.
Eric Smith brings with him almost a decade’s worth of technology commercialization experience and a passion for entrepreneurship.
Smith’s current role at the UA Center for Innovation comes after serving as the commercialization network manager for Tech Launch Arizona (TLA), the UA’s office responsible for moving UA research and technological innovation into the marketplace.
While at TLA, he focused on building and leveraging a network of domain experts and business leaders who consult on University technologies to help reveal their commercial relevance as they are prepared for the market.
Smith holds a BSBA in business management and entrepreneurship and an MBA from the University of Arizona.
Since 2017, Startup Unidos has cultivated collaboration, innovation and entrepreneurship in border communities throughout the Arizona-Sonora region through ground-level programming that nurtures emerging companies, assists growing firms, builds the workforce of the future and supports partner organizations in reaching underserved pockets of the community.
Stéphanie Bermúdez is an Ambos Nogales native and Latinx innovator, who has invested more than 15 years in understanding the local culture, building relationships, and earning the respect and loyalty of people and organizations at all levels of society.
Her innovative ideas create cross-border communities and environments that expand on binational relationships to encourage collaboration and co-inspiration. She focuses on building up entrepreneurial communities and networks, through events, training, consulting and research that extends beyond Southern Arizona.
Stéphanie displays an unwavering commitment to making an impact and is passionate about taking her experiences and shaping binational business opportunities with Mexico and the United States.
She is actively working with startups and aspiring youth across the Arizona-Sonora by developing and implementing Startup Unidos, entrepreneurial and workforce education, capacity building and youth programs, such as Waste Not: Borderlands Innovations in Food Waste Management, Emprende Amigo, and Borderoots.
StartupAZ exists to help Arizona’s most innovative startup companies improve their leadership, performance, and connections, while inspiring generosity and philanthropy within their communities.
The organization was created to catalyze Arizona’s technology and innovation ecosystem by connecting and empowering entrepreneurs.
Diana Vowels is a community builder with a passion for driving the tech ecosystem forward in Phoenix.
She is the CEO of StartupAZ, the organization created to catalyze Arizona’s technology and innovation ecosystem by connecting and empowering entrepreneurs.
Diana, who has long been at the forefront of Arizona’s technology and startup community, joined StartupAZ in 2021 to help expand the organization’s talent attraction and development mission.
Prior to joining the team, she served as VP/Community and General Manager of Galvanize, where she led the launch of the software engineering and data science bootcamps and built the co-working space into a vital part of Phoenix’s startup fabric.
She currently serves on the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Valley and Invest Southwest board of directors, and was the 2021 chair for the annual Invest Southwest Venture Madness. Diana is a graduate of University of Missouri and has held executive roles in public and private companies in media, healthcare and technology.
Personal: Spouse, David Vowels, healthcare leader and two daughters.
About AZ TechCast
AZ TechCast is dedicated to covering innovation and technology in Arizona and beyond.
Through the art of connected conversation, AZ TechCast’s guests will share their expertise, success stories, news and analysis about the region’s leading startups, companies and emerging technologies, as well as the latest industry trends and critical issues propelling the state’s growing technology ecosystem.
About Your Hosts
Steve Zylstra serves as president and CEO of the Arizona Technology Council, a role he assumed in 2007. He is responsible for strategy, operations, finance and policy development. Zylstra is a vocal spokesman for the value technology can provide in raising social and economic standards in Arizona.
Zylstra serves on numerous councils, committees and boards, was named “Leader of the Year, Technology,” by the Arizona Capitol Times, and “Most Admired Leader” by the Phoenix Business Journal. In addition, he was awarded an honorary doctorate of science in technology from the University of Advancing Technology in Tempe, Ariz.
Zylstra earned a bachelor’s degree in automotive engineering technology from Western Michigan University.
Karen Nowicki is a successful author, speaker and the creator of Deep Impact Leadership™ and SoulMarks Coaching™. She is a two-time recipient of the prestigious national Choice Award® for her book and personal development retreat. Karen was crowned the first-ever “Mompreneur of the Year” Award in 2010 for the southwestern states. She was recognized for her leadership, business acumen, and work-life balance.
Karen has been an expert guest on regional TV and radio shows, including Fox Phoenix Morning Show, Sonoran Living, Good Morning Arizona, The Chat Room, and Mid-Day Arizona. She has been a regular contributor to many print and online magazines – publishing articles and blogs for business and education.
In addition to working with private coaching clients, Karen is also the Owner & President of Phoenix Business RadioX. The Business RadioX Network amplifies the voice of business – serving the Fortune 500,000, not just the Fortune 500. Phoenix Business RadioX helps local businesses and professional associations get the word out about the important work they’re doing to serve their market, profession, and community.
Of all the experiences Karen has had the privilege of participating in over her vast career, she shares that Phoenix Business RadioX is a pinnacle adventure!
Born in Phoenix, Arizona, Bianca Buliga is a trilingual first-generation American of Romanian ethnicity. A marketing professional with experience in both the nonprofit and for-profit sectors, Bianca currently works as Director, Marketing & Communications for the Arizona Technology Council.
Previously, Bianca worked as Marketing Communications Lead at Proctorio, a learning integrity platform that offers remote proctoring software ensuring exam integrity for learners around the world.
Bianca also worked as Senior Marketing Manager at SEED SPOT, a social impact incubator that educates, accelerates, and invests in impact-driven entrepreneurs creating market-based solutions to social problems. In January of 2020, Bianca was selected as an awardee of the Mandela Washington Reciprocal Exchange Program and traveled to the African island of Mauritius to run entrepreneurship programming for 15 impact-driven ecopreneurs on behalf of the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.
Bianca has also completed comprehensive consulting projects for IBM, ESAN Business School, and the Peruvian government, and interned at the Arizona House of Representatives and U.S. Embassy in Bucharest, Romania.
Bianca earned her Bachelor’s degree in International Affairs from Northern Arizona University in 2014 and her Master’s degree in Global Affairs and Management from the Thunderbird School of Global Management in 2017. She is an avid reader, yogi, and world traveler always planning her next trip.
Connect with Bianca on LinkedIn.
About Our Sponsor
The Arizona Technology Council, Arizona’s only statewide organization serving the technology sector, fosters a climate of innovation to enhance technology in Arizona.
A trusted resource in strengthening Arizona’s technology industry, the Council proactively eliminates impediments that companies face, accelerates the entrepreneurial mindset in the state’s expanding innovation ecosystem, and works to create a destination for companies to be, thrive and stay.