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Connecting entrepreneurs across global cities to Phoenix

A small group activity featuring Fellows from around Latin America, the Caribbean and Canada, working together with coaches and some members of the Edson E+I team in Phoenix in a workshop focused on community development challenges and technology-assisted solutions.

February 07, 2022

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues around the world, the Phoenix entrepreneurial community’s tradition of providing support and expertise for growing businesses reached beyond Arizona.

Through the J. Orin Edson Entrepreneurship + Innovation Institute at Arizona State University, this community had the opportunity to serve the Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative (YLAI) Fellowship Program, a flagship program for emerging entrepreneurs and business leaders from the Western Hemisphere, funded by the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and implemented in partnership with International Research and Exchanges Board.

In supporting the YLAI program, the Edson Entrepreneurship + Innovation Institute leveraged its connections in the greater Phoenix entrepreneurial community to connect executives, community leaders and experienced entrepreneurs with fellows for coaching and workshops. This same community supports Edson E+I Institute programs such as Venture Devils in a similar fashion.

The in-person component of the fellowship operated virtually for the first time in 2021. It replaced an original in-person U.S. visit and enabled more than 200 entrepreneurs from Latin America, the Caribbean and Canada to learn business success techniques through the YLAI program.

Camila Cooper, a 2021 YLAI alumna from Colombia, runs the nonprofit Fruto Bendito, which trains caregivers and provides essential supplies so more young, low-income mothers have greater access to health care for their small children.

“The YLAI program helped me to understand all the dimensions that we could cover as a foundation,” Cooper said. “We were able to build our plans, programs and projects to make a comprehensive intervention, in addition to connecting with the network that exists in Latin America and in the Caribbean. (We did this) while learning about good practices.”

Fellow Camila Cooper (bottom right), a 2021 YLAI fellow and founder of the nonprofit Fruto Bendito, based in Colombia, collaborates with coaches and peers during a live workshop.

This year’s virtual program was a huge benefit to Cooper, who had just given birth to a son and would have been unable to travel for an in-person fellowship.

Cooper also praised her coaches, many who serve in various coaching capacities with Edson E+I.

“The coaches were incredible, since the level of learning was very enriching and the virtual program was not an obstacle to being able to feel as if we were in the same space on equal terms,” she said.

Throughout the entire fellowship program, the YLAI fellows, all between the ages of 25 and 35, were able to further their skills in leadership and entrepreneurship to benefit their community projects, social ventures, nonprofits and businesses by interacting with coaches online.

The foundation of resources Edson E+I had made it easy to scale this experience by leveraging technology and creating a virtual environment, allowing the institute to serve the fellows where they are physically in their home countries, as well where they are in the various phases of their organizations, nonprofits and businesses. Fellows also had access to seed funding and production support to build their company collateral.

Fellows and coaches said the virtual program provided a thorough and rewarding experience.

Shawn Melville is a 2021 YLAI alumnus from Trinidad and Tobago. As managing director of Ipsum Technologies, he leads an organization that helps create opportunities for people with disabilities to thrive in the growing digital economy.

“Participating in the YLAI Fellowship Program has helped Ipsum Technologies to build awareness of the need for greater digital inclusion of persons with disabilities,” Melville said. "And it has provided us with support to build a prototype of our application and develop a go-to-market strategy.” 

Shawn Melville, a 2021 YLAI fellow and managing director of Ipsum Technologies, based in Trinidad and Tobago.

Melville said Ipsum is working on a web application called Blind Way Forward, which is a practical guide for people with visual impairment.

Melville said his hosts, mentor and coaches were all aligned with his organization’s goals and willing to help.

Coach Manny Lucero, founder and CEO of Phoenix-based Lucero Consulting Group, said he found the fellows “truly remarkable” people who showed a passion to succeed and persistence in overcoming barriers to small business success.

“These entrepreneurs have innovative businesses, operate as social enterprises and give back to the community, and took the time and initiative to invest in their education as small business owners,” Lucero said.

A virtual coaching session between coach Manny Lucero and fellow Evita Sanches.

Coach Angela Johnson of FABRIC, a Tempe-based fashion apparel entrepreneurship incubator, said each fellow was “eager to learn and expressed a lot of gratitude.”

Johnson said she found sharing her business model with the fellows rewarding.

“It’s an attempt to help them avoid some of the mistakes I made,” she said.

The fellows adjusted well to the virtual format, Johnson said.

“I did feel that the online experience added a level of convenience to both coaches and fellows,” Johnson said. “There are always some nuances that are better in person; however, I think the benefits of convenience outweigh that.”

Fellow Luis Pelayo shares his thoughts on LinkedIn on his support from the program and his coach, Angela Johnson.

Johnson said each fellow will provide value to their community in a meaningful way.

“They each bring artistry, opportunity, meaning and heart to their immediate area as well as to the global community, and fill a void in the marketplace with a niche product that can’t be met by big corporations,” she said.

ASU’s role in YLAI is multifaceted and includes units such as ASU Knowledge Enterprise’s International Development, the Thunderbird School for Global Management, Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions, and Edson E+I. 

This summer, Edson E+I will serve as a YLAI cohort ambassador connecting 15 fellows to organizations and ASU units to provide them with an overview of the Phoenix entrepreneurial ecosystem for an in-person experience. If your organization or ASU unit is interested in hosting a fellow, please contact Edson E+I at

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