CO+HOOTS to start international exchange program connecting with global entrepreneurs

City Council District 5 Councilman Daniel Valenzuela, right, helped members of CO+HOOTS travel to Catania to present the CO+EXCHANGES program at an international press conference. (Photo Courtesy of Kristin Romaine)
District 5 Councilman Daniel Valenzuela helped members of CO+HOOTS travel to Catania, Italy, to present the CO+EXCHANGES program at an international press conference. (Photo Courtesy of Kristin Romaine)

Members of CO+HOOTS, a Phoenix coworking space, are creating an exchange program to collaborate with fellow entrepreneurs in cities across the globe.

CO+EXCHANGES will function through the CO+HOOTS Foundation, a nonprofit that supports community growth and coworking. The program is designed to bring entrepreneurs from cities around the world together to share ideas and build a more cohesive global community.

“We feel this is very important as we move to more of a global economy because resources (will) be shared across borders more freely,” said Kristin Romaine, co-founder and executive director of the CO+HOOTS Foundation. “(We) wanted to be able to engage the innovation community in … solving some of the world’s most challenging societal issues.”

Participants in the program will be able to visit a city of their choice, though it’s encouraged to travel to a city participating in the program. Each participant will use their particular expertise to improve a local nonprofit, community program or issue in the host city.

“We have a committee who will review the applications, and part of it is based on why the entrepreneur wants to visit that market,” Romaine said. “While there is always something to be learned traveling internationally, we also want to be sure that the individuals going have specific interests in visiting that country and that there are business outcomes they are trying to reach.”

Leaders in the program are currently working with cities around the world and already have collaborations in eight cities that include Tucson, Arizona; Calgary, Canada; Hermosillo, Mexico; and Sao Paulo, Brazil. Romaine said they hope to have four to six global partners by the middle of next year.

Jenny Poon, founder of CO+HOOTS on Washington and 11th streets, said the CO+EXCHANGES program is working to alter a reputation of Phoenix she has often heard — that Phoenix lacks talent.

“This isn’t just a local misperception, it’s a national misperception, even a global misperception,” she said.

“We start to shape the story of Phoenix and shed light on the great things happening here,” Poon added. “We invest in one to impact many. This is the mission.”

Poon said she hopes to bring some of the world’s most renowned entrepreneurs to the city so they will be able to experience Phoenix in a “grassroots, very real way.”

Romaine and Poon, along with a few other CO+HOOTS members, recently traveled to Catania, Phoenix’s Italian sister city, to present the program at an international press conference. They traveled with city of Phoenix Councilman Daniel Valenzuela while he was on a delegation in the city.

CO+EXCHANGES will partner with an existing coworking space in Catania with the hopes of having the program up and running by early next year. According to Poon and Romaine, Catania is similar to how Phoenix was six years ago in terms of economic conditions and entrepreneurs trying to make a difference with their ideas.

“We learned that Catania has actually been interested in connecting with us for a long time because our economy is similar in makeup,” Romaine said. “They were familiar with CO+HOOTS and our success as a coworking community.”

Valenzuela raised money in the private sector from companies including Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona, Arizona Public Service and AT&T in order to fund the trip.

“I want to help create an ecosystem for all entrepreneurs,” Valenzuela said. “I want Phoenix to become the place where entrepreneurs thrive and a place where people would like to come to launch their ideas. I think that’s what we aspire to be and in many ways, what we already are.”

When the group made the announcement in Italy, people were excited that others in the United States could see such value in the Italian entrepreneurs, Valenzuela said.

“And we certainly do,” Valenzuela said. “We went there and were able to hear the ideas of their local entrepreneurs. To be able to announce this program and what it means, and to see it and unveil the excitement, it’s something special.”

Gabriele Buffardeci and Daniel Gustav Indelicato are two of the Italian entrepreneurs who have been involved with the project. Although the candidates who will come to Phoenix through the exchange program have not been decided yet, they are on the list of potential picks. They shared their thoughts through Facebook, a medium that proved to be the easiest form of international communication.

It’s more difficult to be an entrepreneur in Italy, Buffardeci wrote, as opposed to other places in Europe, such as the United Kingdom or Germany. He said it costs more to start a business and the country lacks sufficient support for startup businesses.

“I would desire to go to Phoenix because there is a different way to think, to imagine the future,” Buffardeci wrote. “Rarely there are similar opportunities in life, and I’m sure we can grow together.”

Indelicato agreed and wrote that right now, in Italy, the startup ecosystem has yet to evolve and lacks sufficient support.

“Arizona, as far as we know, is the top state for entrepreneurs and an unbelievable opportunity to learn from who can really do things,” Indelicato wrote. “This is the reason why Phoenix is a great opportunity to build and launch worldwide the business we are right now working on.”

Contact the reporter at Rebecca.Brisley@asu.edu