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Arizona Commerce Authority accelerator program grows state’s next generation of tech startups

Phoenix Business Journal

Arizona is turning to industry leaders to help grow its entrepreneurial ecosystem by boosting the next generation of technology startups.

From its earliest days, the Arizona Commerce Authority has been a driving force in accelerating Arizona’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. Most recently, the ACA partnered with Plug and Play, an entrepreneurial accelerator program that aims to springboard fledgling startups by connecting them with larger, more established businesses to act as founding partners.

Plug and Play accelerateAZ, a program of the Arizona Commerce Authority, officially launched last March alongside corporate partners Intel, Honeywell and Raytheon to boost Arizona startups, especially those with a focus in advanced manufacturing and sustainability.

“We’re incredibly excited to be working with the Arizona Commerce Authority and a truly world-class group of founding partners across the semiconductor, aerospace, and mobility industries,” said Saeed Amidi, CEO and founder of Plug and Play. “This level of engagement is a testament to the ACA’s commitment to bringing business, innovation, and investment to the state and we’re looking forward to accelerating entrepreneurs in Arizona.”

One year on, the program has already launched two cohorts consisting of 26 companies, which gain access to a network of Plug and Play’s 400 corporate partners across the globe.

“The ACA’s partnership with Plug and Play is about creating more opportunities for local startups —opportunities that would not exist otherwise — while helping solve some of the biggest challenges industry faces,” said Sandra Watson, president and CEO of the Arizona Commerce Authority.

The ultimate goal of Plug and Play accelerateAZ is to attract entrepreneurial activity in the state and increase venture capital investment in the region.

“Our hope is that Arizona is recognized globally for the incredible activity, opportunities, innovation, and entrepreneurship that is happening here in our state,” Watson said.

Aside from Plug and Play accelerateAZ, the ACA offers a myriad of programs aimed at fostering the state’s startup ecosystem, including the Arizona Innovation Challenge, one of the largest business plan competitions in the country.

The AIC has accepted more than 2,700 applicants since its launch in 2011, with a total portfolio valuation of $2.8 billion.

Nicolle Hood and Annie Shoen were among the 2022 AIC awardees for their app, My First Nest Egg, a financial literacy app for children ages 3 to 12.

My First Nest Egg began as a conversation between Hood and Shoen, who noticed a lack of educational programming dedicated to teaching young children the value of money. Frustrated by the lack of options available to their own children, they decided to create their own.

Hood and Shoen don’t have backgrounds in tech — they’re both attorneys — but they made connections with people who could help them make their vision a reality. Today, My First Nest Egg has over 5,000 users, and its founders have tested the app in classrooms in hopes of a larger rollout in the future.

Hood said the ACA helped connect her business with potential investors and business partners, and helped put My First Nest Egg on the map.

“It was incredible exposure and mentorship,” Hood said. “No one would have heard about us without the amazing ecosystem the ACA has in place to take non-traditional startups and put them in the public eye and provide homegrown support.”

Another winner of the 2022 AIC was Chandler resident Raghu Nandivada, who decided to enter his startup into the competition after taking the ACA’s online Small Business Boot Camp courses. His company, Padma AgRobotics, builds AI-powered robots used by farmers to increase crop yield and lower costs.

“The ACA has helped grow a great ecosystem in Arizona,” Nandivada said of his experience with AIC. “It is a collaborative entrepreneurial community. They encourage you to grow and help you find the right people.”

As innovative startups continue to blossom in the Grand Canyon State, attracting further venture capital, Arizona is challenging the notion that places like the Bay Area are the sole incubators of innovation.

“I think there is this misconception that you have to be in Silicon Valley,” Hood said. “I think Arizona and the ACA are doing a really good job of letting the world know that viable, really cool startups can start in other places.”

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