How the City of Phoenix Shines in Supporting Local Entrepreneurs
February 9, 2017 by Brandi Porter
If there’s one politician who has successfully connected with the local entrepreneur community, it’s Councilman Daniel Valenzuela.
Since his first day at City Hall, the part-time council member and full-time Glendale firefighter has made a concerted effort to champion startups and entrepreneurs in Phoenix. Enticing big tech and multinationals to town generates growth, but according to Valenzuela, boosting small businesses can make just as big of an impact.
Having served council District 5 for five years now, Valenzuela has — alongside city colleagues and local entrepreneurs — pushed forward initiatives, programs and policies at the government level to grow entrepreneurship, and to open it up to underserved communities.
For him, these innovators are true job creators, and represent the “very foundation of economic development.” Successful and properly funded single-employee companies can eventually scale to employ hundreds of workers.
“When you think of economic development there are lots of factors, but at the end of the day, the largest group of employers are coming from these ideas, from our entrepreneurs,” Valenzuela said.
According to Jenny Poon, founder of Co+Hoots coworking, this type of government involvement is rare in other cities around the world, where they mostly focus on attracting and retaining huge corporations.
“Daniel sees the value in supporting the startups and small businesses that will eventually become huge job creators,” Poon said. “He understands that combined, the small businesses and startups are quite mighty and build just as many jobs as one large corporation.”
Much of Valenzuela’s time is spent listening — to the needs, wants and challenges startups and entrepreneurs face, according to Poon.
“For the first time in a long time, Phoenix government is innovating just as fast as the community,” Poon said, “and they’re working together, I think in huge part because of Daniel’s initiatives.”
Those initiatives include expanding micro-lending programs, launching projects like The Hive, a business incubator out of the Burton Barr Central Library, and enacting policies and projects to build a stronger, denser downtown in Phoenix.
“If we can create an environment where our workforce wants to be, these industries are moving in,” Valenzuela said.
His next project is Code PHX, a privately funded coding education program that will be implemented in every city library, after-school programs, and more place overtime, with the aim of making coding “accessible, equitable and free to every kid in Phoenix.”
And while he continues to push for these initiatives, Valenzuela also emphasized that these ideas and programs are sometimes dreamed up and always vetted by the startup community.
“Government is not the center of the ecosystem, we’re not the reason for it, we’re simply a pillar,” he said. “This has to be driven by the private sector, it has to be driven by the people, the boots on the ground. They have to look back and know that government is following them — it’s not the other way around.”
Jonathon Cottrell, the initial catalyst behind #yesphx and PHX Startup Week, compared Phoenix to other regions, where the government sometimes tries to control and smothers the startup effort, or does nothing at all.
From Valenzuela and Mayor Greg Stanton to Chris MacKay, Phil Bradstock and Hank Marshall — the City of Phoenix have been allies and friends, according to Cottrell.
“Ultimately it always comes down to people and they (the City of Phoenix) have the right people, who have really made a commitment to the startup community,” he said.
Just as #yesphx — the rallying cry for Phoenix startups — was first adopted by the community and later by the City of Phoenix, Valenzuela said the government should be following entrepreneurs. Not the other way around.
Poon agreed and commended the city for it.
“The government’s superpower comes from supporting initiatives through connections and visibility and removing roadblocks,” she said, “to build and celebrate the successes of this emerging community of innovators.”