Phoenix welcomes Canadian investment firm to the Center for Entrepreneurial Innovation

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Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton announces the addition of Canadian investment firm VA Angels to the Valley at city hall on Tuesday. (Jessica Morrison/DD)
Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton announces the addition of Canadian investment firm VA Angels to the Valley at city hall on Tuesday. The firm will be located at the Center for Entrepreneurial Innovation. (Jessica Morrison/DD)

City officials held a press conference Tuesday morning to welcome the VA Angels, a Canadian angel investment firm, to its new location in Phoenix.

The Center for Entrepreneurial Innovation at Gateway Community College will house the VA Angels, said Jeff Saville, executive director of CEI. Saville said the firm will hold its monthly meetings at CEI and will also retain offices there.

Randy Lennon, co-founder and managing director of the firm, said it recently celebrated its 100th investment company and currently has 120 investors.

Angel investors help fledgling companies that are higher risk, most of whom banks will not help, he said.

“We operate our company as a business, and we have been looking around to expand our business,” Lennon said. “We decided to come to Phoenix, because Phoenix has made a goal of building 5,000 new startup opportunities.”

Randy Gustafson, vice president of innovation at the Arizona Commerce Authority, spoke at the conference about the state of the startup community in Arizona.

“The entrepreneurial ecosystem for the state and the valley is smoking hot right now,” he said. “But as we all know, it takes a village to raise an ecosystem, and everyone here is a part of that growth.”

Gustafson said Arizona already has a vibrant angel investment community, and that his organization is pleased at the expansion of the community.

“In the last six months alone, I have had numerous conversations with different sources of capital,” he said. “Private, angel, and venture capital from outside of Arizona, but who have heard about the amazing companies, resources, and ecosystems right here, and they see Phoenix and Arizona as a great investment opportunity.”

Local incubators and co-working spaces such as SeedSpot, and CO+HOOTS often refer out to the other groups, should the other group be a better fit for the client, helping each other out, rather than competing.

Odeen Domingo, co-founder of CO+HOOTS along with his wife Jenny Poon, said CO+HOOTS is a co-working space, which provides the office space and the atmosphere for collaboration to help startups and entrepreneurs to grow their businesses.

“Many people think that the entrepreneurial community in Phoenix is talented but untapped, as far as startup investment goes,” Domingo said. “A lot of people leave Phoenix because they feel they can’t find capital investment here. There are a lot of cool co-working spaces and incubators, but when it comes to capital investment, it’s lacking overall when you compare it to a lot of big cities that are known for it.”

Domingo pointed to last month’s Phoenix Startup Week as an example of the Valley’s entrepreneurial community.

“We just had the Phoenix Startup Week the last week of February,” he said. “That opened a lot of eyes locally about how big and talented the startup community is here, and it’s awesome to see that the word is getting out nationally and globally, and hopefully that keeps our startup community here.”

Courtney Klein, co-founder and CEO of SeedSpot, said her company works with social entrepreneurs to build products, services, and technology “that make the world a better place.”

“I think that the more density we can build in the capital community the better it is for our entrepreneurs locally,” Klein said. “So many entrepreneurs often have to leave Arizona to raise capital, so having a new group here is fantastic for the ecosystem.”

SeedSpot’s role is to connect entrepreneurs to investors and angel groups, she said.

“I think capital and talent are historically cited as the reason entrepreneurs leave, and I think those dynamics are both changing with the work the universities are doing and with the work the angel investors are doing to keep them here,” Klein said.

Clarification: Feb. 24, 2015: The Center for Entrepreneurial Innovation is located at Gateway Community College, but is run by Maricopa Corporate College. The headline and photo caption have been updated for clarity.

Contact the reporter at jessica.g.morrison@asu.edu.

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