Friday, September 11, 2015

Startup Tucson: Part 2: Justin Williams

Startup Tucson: Part 2: Justin Williams

Justin Williams, like many marketing graduates with an entrepreneurial streak, began reaching out to marketing companies with the hopes of getting a job. In 2004 he began volunteering for the ITASA – IT Industry Association and making contacts. One year later, he was asked to become the Executive Director and they merged with ITASA (ITASA, Aerospace Association and Manufacturing group).

Utilizing all three of his degrees (Engineering, Marketing and Finance), Justin's work culminated into a second merger three years later, this time with two other entities, into the Arizona Tech Council. Meanwhile, up near Phoenix, a group called Gangplank began looking southward for its expansion of creative coworking and incubator-type office spaces. They formed a partnership with Bookmans Exchange space in the far northwest of Tucson. And just a few short months later, Justin, together with the key players of Gangplank, held a kick-off event, thus launching Startup Tucson.

As with many new entities, there are growing pains, and after a series of discussions, in November 2011 the Gangplank leadership left and Aaron Eden (GP Tucson and product manager for Leadership Development inside Intuit, Inc.) stepped in to work with Justin and find new office space to continue their efforts.

Through his extensive contacts Justin got in touch with some notable folks (profiles coming soon) and the Downtown Partnership of Tucson with the aim to see if they could take over some unused downtown office space.

Like many government agencies, they weren't sure about this new style of shared office space as a way to rebuild downtown and turned Justin down. Unfazed, he continued to work on startup events and conferences for the next one and half years. In the Spring of 2013, seeing the value of rebuilding a devitalized downtown, the city agreed to revisit Justin and Gangplank's proposal and Holualoa (a real estate development firm) struck a deal for them to move all activities into a downtown office.

Once again, as with many new organizations, in another short year (Spring 2014) it became apparent that Startup Tucson and Gangplank were heading in different directions in terms of growth and goals. Gangplank proper moved back up near Phoenix, and Aaron, together with Justin merged GP Tucson and Startup Tucson into the CoLab Workspace.

Like many new tech associations in cities with a young and growing entrepreneur pool, Startup Tucson continues to grow from the devoted efforts of professionals who volunteer their time. These professionals, known as Leads (in GP terminology) began to meet monthly and they quickly began to change the face of downtown Tucson with events like Startup Weekend (and Startup Weekend for Teens and Kids), Idea Funding, and Hackathons.

With no signs of stopping, Justin is continuing to develop what can only be a bigger Startup Tucson. Having maintained his ties with Tech Parks Arizona, UA Tech Park and the Digital Innovations department at the UofA, Startup Tucson is poised to help make a major impact into changing the face of downtown Tucson, and helping innovative companies into their next phase.

I'm thrilled to be in Tucson at this point in time, considering my background and experience, and will be reporting on more events and great people.