By DAVID JOSEPH DEL GRANDE
Several local start-up business elites offered insight into their success and provided experienced encouragement to a crowd of Pima Community College students, employees and members of the public at the “Entrepreneurs: Doing Business Their Way” panel discussion held on Jan. 8.
Graphic artists, clothing designers, business owners, students and aspiring entrepreneur networkers lined the seats of Pima’s Proscenium Theatre at West Campus to hear five panelists impart their knowledge about business strategies and marketing tips.
Ari Shapiro, owner of Tucson’s Xoom Juice, Sparkroot Coffee Bar and Fare and Falora, was the first panelist to respond to the question, What is the most important executive decision you would change to become successful sooner?
“As much there is a truism that hindsight’s 20-20, I do really think that another truism in business is what doesn’t kill you does make you stronger,” Shapiro said. “But if I have to put it down to one, I think trusting my gut ever so slightly more with very important decisions.”
Shawn Graham said he received an email two days before the event, and made special arrangements to attend the entrepreneur panel. Graham graduated from Pima in 2012 with a business degree and is an administrative support technician for Pima’s West Campus Student Life Department.
Graham is now studying business administration at the University of Arizona’s Eller College of Management while continuing to operate Boogie Down Soundz, a mobile D.J. business he founded in 1992.
“I plan on diversifying and opening other businesses, possibly restaurants,” Graham said. “Definitely music-related as well because I’ve also produced music.”
The organizers of the free event invited Pima’s Entrepreneurship Academy and Entrepreneurship Boot Camp alumni of the past three years, and advertised through administrative emails and local media.
Matthew Jeschke, a realtor for Tierra Antigua Realty, read about the event and said he’s continually looking for new ways to network. Jeschke said the panel discussion looked like a fantastic opportunity, and would recommend such an event to entrepreneurial hopefuls.
“There was a common thread I heard through all the panel speakers. They wished they had trusted themselves more,” Jeschke said. “The best way I have found to build confidence is meeting other entrepreneurs who have gone into the unknown to create their businesses.”
The other panelists were Tom Alfonso, of Alfonso Gourmet Olive Oil & Balsamics; Marion Hook, co-proprietor of Adobe Rose Inn Bed and Breakfast; Cecilia Mata, founder of AllSource Global Management, and Chris Schlesinger, founder and president of Best Finishing Incorporated.
Schlesinger was the second panelist to immediately jump in, and confirmed the shared wisdom to trust yourself when forging your path to entrepreneurship.
“I wish I had listened to my instincts more closely because I had all the answers,” Schlesinger said. “That sounds maybe a little foolhardy, but there was always a red flag and I wish I had paid attention to it.”
The entire panel tackled the daunting task of choosing the appropriate avenue for funding their businesses, then continually scrutinizing their business plans when their entrepreneurial lives began. Tom Alfonso assured the diverse crowd he understood the pressure, but spoke of determination.
“I think a lot of that is really mind-boggling,” Alfonso said. “Don’t give up. Take advantage of some of the great resources that are out there. They can really guide you in the right direction.”
Graham considers himself a life-long learner and plans to apply the shared triumphs of the five local entrepreneurs to his businesses and ideas.
“I got a lot out of all the panelists because it was such a diverse group,” Graham said. “People that are looking to become business owners or entrepreneurs should take advantage of all the resources that are out there.”