New Downtown Innovation District Launches as Downtown Becomes a Hub of High Tech in Tucson

June 7, 2013

A mix of new and established tech companies in Downtown Tucson have come together with non-profits andgI_73661_DID 3 the Pima County Public Library to form the Downtown Innovation District, devoted to serving the needs of the growing tech companies and innovative art initiatives and groups in Downtown Tucson.

The need for a group that addresses the concerns of tech companies in Downtown Tucson was suggested by Tony Ford, Chief Operating Officer of ArtFire.com, an online handmade marketplace that recently moved its company headquarters into the Bates Mansion at 283 N Stone.

ArtFire.com operates a global handmade and artisan marketplace from Tucson and was founded in Tucson in 2009, but Artfire is far from alone in commitment to technology and innovation in Downtown. Many tech firms and groups have been relocating, opening or consistently operating in the Downtown area, often going unnoticed, even as they serve clients and reach customers globally.

Joining ArtFire in the creation of the DID are:
Desert Owl Games
Elegant Thought
Maker House
Pima County Public Library
Startup Tucson
91.3 FM KXCI Community Radio

The group is devoted to identifying the needs of the tech community in Downtown Tucson, pooling resources, and promoting across platforms to benefit the greater Downtown Innovation District and growth in high tech firms, startups, and entrepreneurs. One of the group’s main goals is to create a place welcoming to new graduates and businesses so that Tucson does not continue to lose talented entrepreneurs to other cities.

“There is a burgeoning tech ecosystem happening Downtown with co-working and maker spaces joining forces with tech incubators and investors,” Ford says. “Tucson is becoming a place where tech companies can launch and thrive, offering both lower costs for lean startups and a climate and culture that can help attract top talent.”

Unlike traditional business associations, this group set a clear agenda of collaboration over competition at their inaugural meeting. For a group whose members are mostly comprised of companies whose clients are outside of Tucson, the real interest seemed to be in working to make Tucson, and the Downtown area specifically, an exciting, thriving, supportive space for entrepreneurs, artists and creatives. The focus is on nurturing an economy and culture of innovation in Downtown Tucson.

Aaron Eden, Director of Gangplank, a coworking and collaborative space in the Pioneer Building, states, “We want to be a vehicle to create long lasting positive change in Tucson. We know that diversity breeds innovation and the intersection of artists, engineers, teachers, programmers and other local creatives are the perfect catalyst.”

Eden’s sentiment is echoed by many of the groups represented in the Innovation District, including other non-profits and business groups like Startup Tucson, founded and chaired by Justin Williams. “Tucson’s startup and innovation ecosystem is really starting to grow. The collaboration I see happening across the community is a powerful force that will reshape the future of Tucson and our economy.”

The new Innovation District does not stop at business or non-profit spaces. Jennifer Nichols, Senior Librarian for the Pima County Public Library, expresses the library’s focus on technology and innovation when working with youth in the area, “As we continue our work serving the youth of our community with positive 21st century skill-building opportunities, including innovative, creative collaborations with mentors and entrepreneurs, the Pima County Public Library sees great potential in the collaborations that will come from the formation of the Tucson Downtown Innovation District.”

In fact, it is the Pima County Public Library’s Catalyst Cafe Series that is the first action point for the group. Several members of the Innovation District will be featured on a panel on maker, hacker and coworking spaces on June 11, 2013. The event has been moved to the new Gangplank space on 100 N. Stone Ave. due to swelling public interest in these coworking and collaborative opportunities. The Innovation District members will cross promote this event heavily to introduce Tucson to the many new tech spaces and programs now available.

Future plans for the Innovation District include tech open houses, maker events, competitions, hack days for civic good and youth education initiatives.

If you work for or operate a technology business in or around Downtown Tucson and wish to join the Downtown Innovation District, contact Tony Ford via email. The next meeting of the DID is scheduled for Wednesday, June 19 at 3 PM at the Gangplank Space at 100 N Stone.