Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Spotlight: Tucson, AZ

Tucson, AZ

Tucson AZ, known as “Optics Valley” is growing into a substantial city for innovation and business, and is attracting many large manufacturing companies.

Tucson, AZ is the second-largest city in the state and the 33rd-largest in the country. Sometimes known as “Optics Valley” because of the high number of optics companies in the area, Tucson is also home to several large manufacturing companies – including the Missiles System division of the Raytheon Company.

While it is perhaps not currently a hotspot for startups, there is a reason for optimism moving forward: though Tucson is 158th on WalletHub’s 2018 list of the best small cities to start a business, it is 20th in the “Business Costs” category. Similarly, despite being 107th on the same site’s rankings of the best cities for Hispanic entrepreneurs, it finished 37th in the “Hispanic Business-Friendliness” rank. Finally, in part due to the aforementioned high concentration of optics companies, Tucson was named by WalletHub as the 28th-best metro area for STEM professionals – not explicitly an entrepreneurship ranking, but one that suggests a solid environment for innovation.

Based on these rankings, FundingSage has reviewed the resources that make up Tucson’s entrepreneurial ecosystem:

Entrepreneurial Meetups:

Tucson is one city that is home to a branch of GeekMeet, a technology networking group that hosts monthly events.

The Small Business Growth Summit is a group of entrepreneurs and business owners that meet regularly and learn from one another to help grow their businesses.

Not explicitly meant for entrepreneurs or small business owners, Tucson Young Professionals is a group designed to promote and support young business leaders in the community.


Regular Entrepreneurial Events:

Techstars hosts startup weekends, two-day conferences supporting entrepreneurship, in cities around the country, including in Tucson on an annual basis.

Held annually in Tucson, the TENWEST Festival is a community-organized event celebrating art, entrepreneurship, technology and more.

The Tucson Metro Chamber hosts a variety of business events, including networking opportunities, workshops, business expos and awards ceremonies for local businesses.

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Startup Competitions:

The Arizona Innovation Challenge is a statewide technology commercialization competition that is held twice annually, in the spring and fall.

Held annually at the University of Arizona, the McGuire New Venture Competition pits student startup teams against one another in a pitch competition.

Traditionally, several pitch competitions take place during the TENWEST Festival in Tucson – in 2018, that included a Social Impact Pitch Competition, among others.


Co-working Spaces:

Connect Coworking offers a few membership levels and several perks, including 24/7 access and local beer on tap in the kitchenette.

Intelligent Office’s Tucson location offers 24/7 access to members as well as a variety of amenities, including high-speed fiber internet.

Built in a former warehouse, Rail Yard Executive Suites offers flexible workspace to help entrepreneurs and small business owners to grow their businesses.

Tucson is home to one of many Regus office locations, offering flexible membership plans for professional co-working and office space.

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Maker spaces:

The Pima County Public Library’s Main Library includes 101Space, a youth community for ages 13-18 that includes some smaller-scale maker space equipment, such as 3D printers.

The University of Arizona offers students and faculty access to iSpace, which includes maker technology, virtual reality spaces and more.

Xerocraft is a hackerspace and maker space that has a wide variety of tools and equipment available and hosts regular classes, workshops and events.



Sponsored by the University of Arizona, the Arizona Center for Innovation is a group that supports the research and businesses of university faculty and the community as a whole.

Cook Tucson is a culinary incubator that provides commercial kitchen space to the Tucson community to help startup companies grow.

Go For Vertical is a new style of incubator that works with teams and entrepreneurs to help them launch their promising technology startups.

Run by Startup Tucson, Thryve is a program with several tracks that helps existing companies grow and new ones reach market.



Beginning in January 2019, the Go For Vertical incubator is launching a 10-week accelerator program for technology startups.

The Fuerza Local Business Accelerator, a six-month program for micro-entrepreneurs, particularly the underserved latinx community, runs a Tucson program.



Pima Community College offers classes in entrepreneurship in their business program as well as hosting a Small Business Development Center for local entrepreneurs.

The University of Arizona’s McGuire Center for Entrepreneurship offers students and faculty a wide variety of entrepreneurial programs and support, both inside and outside the classroom.


Angel Groups/VCs:

With offices in Tucson and Denver, CO, Diamond Ventures makes minority investments in companies across the Southwest United States.

Based in Tucson, Desert Angels invests in promising early-stage startups from across the Southwest region of the United States.

UAVenture Capital is a venture capital fund that works with startups based on University of Arizona science and technologies or otherwise related to the university.


Entrepreneurial Newsletter Coverage:

BizTucson, a quarterly magazine with regional business news, offers e-mail news and alerts to help keep subscribers up to date with the local business community.

Inside Tucson Business, a website and weekly newspaper covering Tucson business news, offers a newsletter with its biggest headlines.

Tucson.com offers a variety of newsletters, including a weekly update on local business news and information.


Are you familiar with the entrepreneurial ecosystem infrastructure in Tucson not included in the article above?  If so, let us know via a comment, and we will add it to the article. 

Interested in Ecosystem Spotlights of other cities in the USA?

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Quinn Pilkey

Quinn is a journalism major at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. He also serves as a freelance author for Hashtag Basketball where he writes about the NBA's Charlotte Hornets and at FundingSage where he researches and writes about entrepreneurial ecosystems.