In 2018, Atul Mahajan – CEO of tech startup Balance, which developed an app that connects yoga instructors with clients – attended Chandler Innovations’ Startup Connection event for the first time. After an evening of networking and presentations, Mahajan said he knew he had to be a part of the program.
After participating in the Chandler Innovations’ entrepreneur incubation programming during the past year, Mahajan stood on stage and pitched his company to a panel during the organization’s 2019 Startup Connection event. Ultimately, he ended up winning a $1,500 award for his business.
“I came to this very event exactly a year ago and was sitting in the chairs you are sitting in… and then said, I want to be part of it,” he said. “What [Chandler Innovations] has provided…has allowed us to challenge some of the things we were thinking of, and at the same time, helped us through a systematic thought process to come to this point.”
Chandler Innovations is a nonprofit that provides resources for tech-focused Chandler-based Entrepreneurs, including community events and business incubator programs. The organization is funded by the City of Chandler and is an offshoot of a larger nonprofit called Moonshot at NACET, whose mission is “to help subject matter experts bring products to market, help nonprofit leaders, and help other cities develop entrepreneurial ecosystems.”
Diana White, CEO of Chandler Innovations, says the goal is to promote the growth of tech-focused companies in Chandler in as many ways as possible.
“If you’re thinking about anything in the technology world, we’ve got something for you… we want you to grow your concept here, we want you to build your business here, we want you to stay here in Chandler.”
Chandler Innovations offers different levels of incubation programs for businesses in different stages of development, from the early idea-phase to the scaling and funding phases. Applicants accepted into the programs receive access to mentorship and services designed to help them grow and scale their business concepts.
“I’m really so proud of programs like this that we get to see innovative companies and ideas come into fruition in our community,” said Kevin Hartke, Mayor of the City of Chandler.
Unlike its application-based incubator programs, Chandler Innovations’ community events are open to anyone and everyone. Longtime Chandler resident Mark Gaffen said he was invited to Startup Connection by a friend and was excited to network with the business community.
“I just wanted to see what it was about,” he said. “It’s always fun to meet people who are trying to start a business and learn a little bit about their perspective and how to do it.”
White says she and the City of Chandler believe that helping tech businesses succeed will ultimately spur trickle-down economic benefits that will affect the entire city.
“Anytime you innovate, even the companies you would think wouldn’t have anything to do with that… they benefit from that,” she said.
The evidence of the program’s impact lies in the numbers. Within the last fiscal year, White says Chandler Innovations assisted 59 clients and helped them create 70 new jobs with average salaries of $70 thousand per year. Overall, these businesses combined have generated approximately $4.3 million in revenue.
White credits a large portion of Chandler Innovations’ success to the mayor and city council, who recently rebranded the city as a “Community of Innovation.”
“I’ve never seen a city so supportive of an initiative as Chandler is of making sure that we have resources for people who want to innovate and grow technology companies,” she said.
Two other entrepreneurs who participated in Startup Connection’s pitch competition this year were Jonatan Funtowicz, CEO of Skin Actives Scientific, and Darrell Lieteau, Founder and CEO Red Pill Infosec. Both had positive things to say about their experiences in Chandler Innovations’ incubator programs.
“Chandler Innovations keeps pushing you out there,” Funtowicz said. “And I think that that’s the most important thing… to be able to go out there and feel that you actually have a plan.
That sentiment was echoed by Lieteau.
“Chandler Innovations has helped me become comfortable with being uncomfortable,” he said. “It actually provides a venue that really serves as a way to gauge the fact that you’re growing… not just as a company, but as a person.”