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ASU, City of Mesa work toward 'business accelerator'

August 13, 2009

The concept of business incubators has been around since the late 1950s and really took off in the United States in the 1980s. They are generally places entrepreneurs can go for support and services with developing their business plans and ideas. But many of those ideas don’t make it past the incubator stage for various reasons.

However, for the survivors whose ideas are less speculative and more likely to succeed, the next step can be daunting, and the lack of assistance to continue to move the idea forward are minimal, especially in Arizona.

The City of Mesa and Arizona State University are working together with the intention of changing that by creating a “business accelerator” environment at ASU’s Polytechnic campus where business can grow and succeed.

“The City of Mesa’s interest and investment in this concept will help attract high-tech industry to the Gateway area, which will be a major step toward creating a regional employment center that will attract high-wage, high-value jobs for our graduates,” says Keith Hjelmstad, ASU's vice president and dean of the College of Technology and Innovation.

The City of Mesa and ASU Polytechnic also are working with several other groups to create the business accelerator, including the Greater Phoenix Economic Council and the business community. ASU has taken the first step in the process – applying for a grant to produce a comprehensive business plan that will look at several factors including a feasibility study, creation of focus groups and stakeholder meetings to address community needs, and creation of a financial plan to establish the cost to develop and operate a business accelerator and identify funding sources.

“In addition to being advantageous to the Gateway area, developing a comprehensive business accelerator will amplify the Polytechnic campus’s focus on engineering, business and technology programs,” Hjelmstad says.

According to a study conducted for the U.S. Department of Commerce, business accelerators or incubators provide communities with enormous economic benefits at a low cost. The study indicates that for every $1 of public money that is provided, clients and graduates generate approximately $30 in local tax revenue alone. Business accelerators/incubators also promote small business longevity. Members of the National Business Incubator Association report 87 percent of all firms that have graduated from their incubators are still in business.

“Establishing a business accelerator close to the Polytechnic campus and Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport will position the area to be a hub of creative entrepreneurship and a place where the knowledge work force gravitates,” says Scott Somers, a Mesa District 6 councilmember.

This business accelerator will be great for Mesa and the Valley, says Barry Broome, the president and chief executive officer of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council.

“It will bring economic diversity, the potential to create thousands of jobs and raise the income level in the area of the ASU Polytechnic campus," Broome says.

ASU students could benefit from this relationship in the future as the next big thing is generated out of the business accelerator.

“At the Polytechnic campus, we are preparing students to meet the needs and demands of high technology business and industry,” Hjelmstad says. “I see the accelerator as a great vehicle for students to gain real-world experience, for faculty members to leverage their expertise, and for ASU to participate in the forward motion of the development and economy of the region. The concept is an excellent fit for our ‘polytechnic’ aspirations."