Moonshot at NACET, which for 20 years has used in-person mentoring, pitch contests and conferences to inspire and mentor budding entrepreneurs in Flagstaff and beyond, is now pivoting to provide that guidance and support in the era of social distancing.
The non-profit is launching Mission Control Startup Pitch, a free service connecting new entrepreneurs with “moonshot” ideas to a panel of successful business leaders via teleconferencing.
“Just like astronauts need Mission Control to provide vital guidance and support during their journeys in space, we want to provide risk takers and change makers with what they need as they take their innovations and turn them into viable businesses,” said President and CEO of Moonshot at NACET Scott Hathcock.
Entrepreneurs are invited to complete an online application on the Moonshot website. A video conference session is scheduled so they can make a five-minute pitch to a panel of Moonshot mentors.
After the presentation, the mentors provide feedback, guidance and in some cases, assistance by providing contacts who can help the entrepreneurs with their business.
An official from the City of Flagstaff, one of the main financial supporters of Moonshot at NACET, noted that these free sessions are both an innovation and an investment in marketing the city to potential businesses and job creators.
“I feel what Moonshot at NACET has put together for their virtual start-up mission control program is beyond next level,” said Director of Economic Vitality Heidi Hansen. “There are so many entrepreneurs globally that are looking for this type of mentorship by experts in the field. Moonshot, along with their partners, is offering an opportunity to put their ideas in motion. I also love that they are not only assisting our locals, but welcoming others from out of the area to come visit, discover and possibly grow in Flagstaff – virtually and someday, in person.”
The virtual pitch is just the latest innovation from an organization that has been encouraging disruptive thinking and the entrepreneurial spirit for more than two decades. The original iteration of Moonshot was a business incubator for homegrown talent that opened its doors in 2001. Its first two clients were Kahtoola and Aspen Communications.
Through the years, the facility grew from a series of offices on Milton Ave. to its own campus on McMillan Mesa with a business incubator and accelerator for startups looking to scale up.
Believing that an entrepreneurial hub should be more than a brick-and-mortar location, Moonshot at NACET began concentrating on programs, education, mentoring and events to support entrepreneurs and their new businesses. It also began to export that knowledge to other communities for a fee.
“We discovered that Moonshot as a program did not have to just live on McMillen Mesa,” said Hathcock. “It could be exported to other communities who would pay for the expertise in growing entrepreneurial ecosystems – and those funds would go right back into programs for local startups.”
In addition to Kahtoola and Aspen Communications, graduates of the Moonshot program include Symple Surgical, POBA Medical, Love You Foods, Mother Road Brewing, Canyon Coolers, War2In, Mosaic and Tepa Burger.
Once the era of social distancing is over, Hathcock said, Moonshot at NACET will continue to grow its programs, including more initiatives designed for high schools and summer camps to encourage entrepreneurship in teens, as well as an expanded focus on women entrepreneurs and women leaders though its W.E. (Women Entrepreneurs) Mean Business initiative.
Understanding that new cutting-edge businesses will not thrive without a matching workforce, Moonshot is also partnering with organizations like Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Promineo Tech to develop workforce development training modules with an emphasis on targeting those who are not pursuing secondary education paths or are seeking to shift to careers that require a new skillset.
“This will have multiple benefits,” said Hathcock. “These partnerships will enhance technological talent in communities, which in turn creates access to high paying jobs for employees. For new businesses, it means a tech-savvy local labor force ready to help them grow.” FBN