This article originally appeared in the Chamber Edge Magazine-
New Tucson Companies FORGE Ahead into Success
Tucson, Arizona, has long been known for its rich history, stunning desert landscapes, and thriving entrepreneurial spirit. In recent years, Tucson has become a hub for innovation, attracting businesses and entrepreneurs from across the country to take part in programs like FORGE Ahead. Launched by University of Arizona FORGE (Finding Opportunities and Resources to Grow Entrepreneurs), the FORGE Ahead program is instrumental in helping new businesses in Tucson achieve their goals.
FORGE Ahead is an accelerator program designed to help early-stage businesses. The program supplies resources, support, and mentorship to participating businesses. Since its start in 2020, FORGE Ahead has helped dozens of businesses achieve significant milestones and make a positive impact on Tucson's economy. FORGE Ahead is a 12-month program designed specifically for young, rapidly emerging, innovation-driven scale-up companies seeking profit-market fit. The program provides CEOs and Founders with custom development plans and resources to help them achieve their goals. Resident teams have access to the FORGE network of experts and use of the downtown FORGE workspace for office, meeting, and event space.
To understand what it means to be a scale-up company, it's important to recognize that it comes after a startup has achieved product-market fit. Companies in the FORGE Ahead program have already overcome the challenges of market readiness and have proven their ability to sustain profits. These companies are looking to expand what's already proven to be a winning formula.
A core strength of the FORGE Ahead program is the focus on mentorship and collaboration. The program brings together experienced entrepreneurs, investors, and other experts to supply guidance and support to participating businesses. The FORGE team of Mentors in Residence includes current and former industry professionals with extensive experience including:
Services for the Department of Defense
Development and commercialization of medical therapeutics
Small business development
Workforce and community development
Public affairs and communication
Engineering management in high-volume manufacturing
With their combined expertise, the FORGE mentor team brings a wealth of knowledge and valuable guidance.
This collaborative approach not only helps businesses in the program but also strengthens the entire entrepreneurial ecosystem in Tucson. As a unit of University of Arizona Research, Innovation and Impact, FORGE is also able to connect students to entrepreneurs in the FORGE Ahead program. Students learn about the entrepreneur path through meeting founders and can identify potential internship opportunities. FORGE Ahead is also able to work with the University’s innovation ecosystem to connect businesses to additional resources throughout University of Arizona.
One notable accomplishment of businesses in the FORGE Ahead program is their ability to create jobs. Many of these businesses are early-stage companies with ambitious growth plans. Through participating in FORGE Ahead, these businesses can accelerate their growth and create more job opportunities for Tucson residents.
Another key accomplishment for businesses in FORGE Ahead is their ability to attract investment. The program provides participating businesses with access to a wide range of resources, including connections to potential investors. As a result, many businesses in the program have secured significant funding to fuel their growth.
One FORGE Ahead resident company, PackDash, was recently acquired which demonstrates the strength and potential of Tucson's entrepreneurial ecosystem. PackDash is a company that provides multi-channel fulfillment services to e-commerce brands, helping those brands grow and succeed with premium, personalized, and cost-efficient service. The company founders moved to Tucson, where they opened a second fulfillment center for their business. In 2022, PackDash was awarded $100,000 by the Google Startups Black Founders Fund. That award resulted from a nomination that the company’s founders received from an investor they met at FORGE at Roy Place. Connections they were able to make locally helped amplify their success in attracting further investors.
In addition to creating jobs and attracting investment, businesses in FORGE Ahead are making significant contributions to their respective industries. Many of these businesses are focused on developing innovative technologies and products that have the potential to transform their industries and improve people's lives.
Metfora is a company formed to commercialize a method developed by two University of Arizona professors using artificial intelligence and machine learning to identify metabolite “fingerprints”. This innovative method can identify diseases earlier than current diagnostic practices. Metfora launched as a startup through Tech Launch Arizona (TLA), the office of the university that commercializes inventions stemming from research. After licensing the technology through TLA, Metfora worked as a FORGE Ahead Resident team, receiving help through iterative analysis and feedback mentoring sessions with industry experts. Metfora also joined the University of Arizona Center for Innovation (UACI) which aided them to prepare and refine their business pitch, gave them pointers for securing funding, and readied them for a successful launch into the market. After successfully working with UA innovation partners, Metfora was named as the recipient of a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase l Award from the National Science Foundation to pursue the detection of chronic diseases. The company will receive a one-year grant to expand its pioneering diagnostic technology. The Metfora AI-based test is the diagnostic tool of the future, driving shifts in healthcare to early diagnosis and intervention, improving patient care and reducing unnecessary medical costs.
Current FORGE Ahead resident teams also include Airth mining technology company, Arizona Luminaria a nonprofit newsroom dedicated to local news and community-centered journalism GRAV- a next generation computer mouse, House Trevethan a technology studio, MindReady supplying sport psychology coaching and education, and Jackson Medical Solutions a medical device company that provides novel healthcare innovations.
These businesses and others like them are not only making important contributions to their industries but are also helping to position Tucson as a hub for innovation and entrepreneurial development. Scaling up a business is a significant challenge that requires careful planning, hard work, and the right support system. By supporting these businesses and providing them with the resources they need to succeed, FORGE Ahead is helping to create a vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem in Tucson that will continue to attract businesses and entrepreneurs for years to come.
About FORGE: FORGE (Finding Opportunities and Resources to Grow Entrepreneurs) is a unique entrepreneurial community combining experiential student and community venture education alongside startup acceleration through three major initiatives. FORGE Student Venture Pathways cultivates entrepreneurial thinking for students across all majors, through ongoing Venture 101 entrepreneurial education, mentoring, and coaching. FORGE Ahead sponsors resident startup acceleration, supplying services and access to resources critical for scale and launch. FORGE Communities works alongside organizations and individuals who are passionate about their local innovation ecosystems, providing support for entrepreneurs and change-makers striving for impact wherever the University of Arizona has a presence. Learn more at forge.arizona.edu