Joe Dunnigan and Esteban Morales created +Swappow, a social commerce platform to sell and borrow sports equipment.
Paul Winandy of WebPT runs a technology business that helps physical therapists efficiently manage their practices.
Couples Craig and Kris DeMarco and Lauren and Wyatt Bailey found a way to revive old buildings by turning them into inspiring neighborhood dining destinations.
Last year: 35 top Arizona entrepreneurs 35 and younger
Entrepreneurship and innovation in Arizona have led to successful businesses that are meeting everyday needs of residents and businesses. And the ideas keep growing. Arizona is the top-ranked state for entrepreneurial activity, according to business magazine Fast Company.
Each year, The Arizona Republic hosts its 35 Entrepreneurs 35 and Younger competition, which honors some of the state’s most successful young entrepreneurs. Applications for this year’s competition are being accepted starting today at business.azcentral.com.
Lauren Bailey, co-founder of Upward Projects, was a 35 Entrepreneurs winner in 2012.
“It was awesome to be next to so many businesses doing great things and doing so many creative things. Most of these folks are finding solutions to problems that people have not done before,” Bailey said.
Bailey and co-founder Craig DeMarco have designed and opened boutique restaurants in metro Phoenix historical buildings. Their dining creations include Postino WineCafe, Windsor, Churn, Federal Pizza and Joyride Taco House. In October, they plan to open a Postino Winecafe in Tempe.
DeMarco said entrepreneurs today are “being more recognized and championed for, and a lot of colleges are starting programs for entrepreneurship.”
Bailey also said the cost of doing business in Arizona is lower compared with other major cities, making it attractive for starting or expanding a business.
Jeff Saville, executive director of the Center for Entrepreneurial Innovation in Phoenix, couldn’t agree more. “Arizona’s entrepreneurial landscape has gone through a sea change over the last decade. From initiatives like the Arizona Bioscience Roadmap and the establishment of the Arizona Commerce Authority by Governor Brewer in 2010 as well as the addition of new incubator/accelerator/co-working programs in the Valley, support for entrepreneurs has blossomed from the grassroots all the way to the legislative leaders of our state,” Saville said.
The commitment to entrepreneurship in Arizona has seen record growth as a result, Saville said. He cites the state’s bioscience sector, which is outpacing the national job-creation average at a rate of 4 to 1.
Saville also points to the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a Missouri non-profit focused on entrepreneurship, which recently cited Arizona as a leading force in entrepreneurship across the nation.
“Without a doubt, this state recognizes and supports its entrepreneurs with resources and facilities to assist in the growth of their businesses, ultimately creating lasting economic impact for the region,” he said.
In Arizona, startups are supported by more than 50 accelerators and incubators that provide technical expertise, mentorship and funding, according to the Arizona Commerce Authority, the state’s economic development agency. In addition, $595 million of venture capital was invested in 71 Arizona companies from 2011 to 2013, which helped to create thousands of jobs.
The leading sectors for entrepreneurial activity in Arizona are technology, aerospace and bioscience, and entrepreneurial activity in that cluster of businesses and others in the state trickles down to support other firms.
CEO Paul Winandy of WebPT is among Arizona’s growing class of tech startups that have captured the attention of investors and capital firms. That kind of backing is helping startups grow and expand more quickly, which can sometimes be a struggle, Winandy said.
Last month, for example, California-based Silicon Valley Bank announced plans to hire 250 people over the next three years for its Tempe location, and to make $100 million available to lend or invest in technology and life-science companies in Arizona. That kind of venture capital can only mean good things for entrepreneurs in Arizona.
Two years ago, WebPT received a line of credit from Silicon Valley Bank to accelerate its growth.
“We are a perfect example of how Silicon Valley Bank has helped the local tech community. We now employ over 200 people, and continue to grow rapidly,” Winandy said in a recent statement.
Entering into the world of entrepreneurship is not always peachy. It takes wit and perseverance. Joe Dunnigan can attest to that. Dunnigan spent 20 years founding or co-founding ventures before launching +Swappow. In the mid 1990s, he started an online action-sports retailer called BigDeal.com. He is also one of the founders of Cowtown Skateboards in Phoenix. He launched +Swappow earlier this year, where sports enthusiasts can sell and borrow sports equipment online or through a mobile app. So far, +Swappow has 1,000 members and has attracted 10,000 visitors since its beta launch earlier this year.
“It’s simultaneously very challenging and very rewarding,” Dunnigan said. “It has to be something personally engaging for reasons other than just money in my opinion, because it’s going to require a great deal of time and energy and commitment,” he said, adding that a business idea has to have sound purpose.
Dunningan said the most rewarding part of entrepreneurship is “the personal interactions, helping people through the business and the creative process. From building nothing into something. You’re taking an idea and pulling the necessary tools, equipment and resources and you’re crafting your vision in a creative way. Businesses that have that kind of creativity, vision and passion will have a higher likelihood of success.”
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35 Entrepreneurs 35 and Younger competition
Entries for 2014 are now being accepted. The criteria:
• The entrepreneur must be involved in running an Arizona-based business and be working in Arizona now.
• An applicant must have been born on or after Nov. 1, 1978, to be eligible.
• Entries must be submitted by 5 p.m. Sept. 26.
• The application must be completed in full to be considered. Applications must be signed by the entrepreneur.
• Candidates must submit a high-resolution portrait photo as part of their entry.
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