Finding Opportunities and Resources to Grow Entrepreneurs (FORGE)

The University of Arizona — Goal 2 Initiative Finding Opportunities and Resources to Grow Entrepreneurs (FORGE)

Finding Opportunities and Resources to Grow Entrepreneurs (FORGE) is a new unit at the University of Arizona dedicated to cultivating entrepreneurial thinking on campus while simultaneously advancing an entrepreneurial ecosystem in the community. In addition to the devastating health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, local businesses have also struggled to survive and created challenges for those hoping to start new businesses. The Advanced Entrepreneur Program (AEP) responds directly to these community and economic needs by offering early-stage entrepreneurs with an 8-week ‘business bootcamp’ that covers customer discovery, market validation, and team formation with the aim of preparing them for launch or incubation.

AEP is open to the community and offered completely free of charge. It is offered 3 times per year with up to 12 teams of 2-4 founders selected for each round, for a total impact of up to 36 new businesses and 144 entrepreneurs annually. Next year, the plan is for the AEP to include packaged content offered to remote learners through our campus extensions and native nations connections.

FORGE is an exciting initiative at the University of Arizona that has already seen an incredible impact with students and the community. This is one more way we have been able to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and its devastating effect on small and medium businesses, while also cultivating an entrepreneurial mindset in the next generation of thought leaders.

Robert Robbins, The University of Arizona

Initiative Differentiators

AEP is a new initiative (established 2019, having completed 5 cohorts) in the process of building and scaling. FORGE has seen an increase in interest and applications for AEP due to widespread job loss and increased desire for self-employment. Furthermore, with an uneven distribution of recent job loss concentrated amongst women, in the most recent AEP cohort at least one founding team member must have identified as female.

Key Interventions and Milestones

Over an 8-week period, AEP consists of more than 40 hours of intensive programming covering several business fundamentals that are critical to grow and scale a profitable business. Entrepreneurs work with leading business experts and mentors to validate their idea and develop the foundation of their business. AEP also emphasizes peer-to-peer learning amongst each cohort of local entrepreneurs. Participants refine their idea and business pitch to be more prepared for investment or pivot their business model to better match customer/market demand.

Expected Impact

The initiative expects to offer three AEP opportunities throughout the year (Summer 2021, Fall 2021, Winter 2022) and recruit 6-12 teams per cohort for a total of 18-36 teams completing per year. AEP is targeting at least an 80% satisfaction rate of participant via exit survey data, and at least 6 businesses accepted to pitch at IdeaFunding, three at Venture Madness (or Social Ventures FastPitch), and one at Arizona Innovation Challenge competitions. AEP also aims to have at least 6 businesses accepted into University of Arizona Center for Innovation (UACI) incubator program, and at least 2 businesses accepted into FORGE Ahead scale up accelerator.