Karen Katzorke is Executive Director of Invest Southwest, a local nonprofit that has helped raise over $300 million for startups over the past two and a half decades. Invest Southwest’s programs, like Venture Madness and the Improving Investability Workshop series, help local entrepreneurs learn how to best raise capital for their businesses. In fact, this year’s Venture Madness is coming up on November 1—and Invest Southwest is hosting a free Get Ready Seminar on October 25 to help hopeful participants prepare. Register now before seats run out!
What part of Arizona do you call home?
My husband, children and I call Gilbert our home. We have lived in Gilbert for more than ten years. While I miss some of the amenities of Phoenix and surrounding cities, it’s a great place to work and raise our family.
What is your role within Invest Southwest?
While I began working for Invest Southwest more than ten years ago, I began working as the Executive Director in the spring of 2011.
What sparked the idea for Invest Southwest?
In 1992, the governor of Arizona recognized the need to bring investment dollars into the emerging growth companies within the state. As a result, an Arizona Capital Access Task Force was formed and birthed the first Arizona Venture Capital Conference (AVCC) which is now recognized as Invest Southwest’s Venture Madness Conference.
What makes Invest Southwest different from a business accelerator or investment firm?
Invest Southwest’s signature event, Venture Madness, is the premier conference that connects investors with emerging growth companies in Arizona and the Southwest. Invest Southwest is a non-profit organization that turns 25 years old in 2017, and attracts investors, entrepreneurs and service providers from across the nation. More than $300M has been raised by presenting companies since its inception. In addition, our Top 4 Venture Madness companies share a cash prize of $100K and receive exposure to an audience of nearly 300 guests.
Our ongoing annual programs, including our Improving Investability Workshops and Preferred Shares Cocktail Receptions, provide opportunities for investors to connect with companies and foster the growth of startups. It’s a great opportunity for entrepreneurs to gain insight as to what investors look for in their companies.
What is your favorite part of working with Invest Southwest?
Nothing is more rewarding than seeing the comradery of the community who promotes the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Arizona and the Southwest. There is a sense of pride that oozes from investors, entrepreneurs and service providers in our entrepreneurial ecosystem, and it’s great watching our experts give back to the community.
What do you think Invest Southwest has yet to achieve? What goals motivate the organization the most?
Invest Southwest is continuing to stamp its name on the radar of neighboring and nationwide investor maps. We need to continue to showcase our growth in technology, life science and other emerging growth companies.
We want to continue the growth of our investor pool in Invest Southwest. We increased the number of investor attendees at Venture Madness by more than 30 percent from 2015 to 2016, and we’ll continue to grow this number.
What have you noticed about the growth of the Arizona entrepreneurial scene over time?
Since my start in the economic development arena more than ten years ago, there has been several expansions in the growth of the entrepreneurial scene. Specifically, in downtown Phoenix, the Warehouse District has become a hot spot for innovation by companies such as WebPT and SeedSpot. In addition, our local innovators have collaborated to take on the #yesphx movement to showcase our growth in the entrepreneurial community.
The Arizona Commerce Authority (ACA) also formed its Arizona Innovation Challenge (AIC) competition, which awards up to $3M per year to early stage companies to drive the growth of business in Arizona.
In addition, universities and community colleges across the state, including ASU, UA, Grand Canyon University, and Maricopa Community Colleges have all formed resources to foster the growth of the entrepreneurial ecosystem.
If you could only describe your city with one word, which word would it be?
What’s your favorite thing about living in Arizona?
My favorite thing about living in Arizona is the climate diversity. Arizona is such a vast state. If you are not spending time hiking, running or exploring in Greater Phoenix, you can travel just a few hours in different directions to ski, visit historical landmarks, hike, or even view the beautiful Grand Canyon.
What’s your least favorite thing about living in Arizona?
My least favorite thing about living in Arizona is the misconception that the state is nothing more than a desert. While you will see the occasional tumbleweed floating down the street, Arizona is a young and thriving state. Its population is continually growing, the cost of living is affordable and it has a strong entrepreneurial ecosystem.
In what area do you think Arizona still has a long way to go?
Sometimes, our state simply doesn’t give itself a lot of credit. We have a strong community that invests in the entrepreneurial ecosystem here. As our state continues to grow, our message showcasing our companies needs to continue to be strong.
The foodie scene is growing bigger and bigger by the day here in Arizona. What is your favorite place to get breakfast in your city?
It’s great to have so many food options to choose from in Gilbert since I probably eat out more than I should. However, my favorite breakfast place in Arizona is the Henhouse Café. It’s a locally owned restaurant by a husband and wife team, and they serve pancakes the size of pizzas.
What’s your favorite place to grab lunch?
My favorite place to grab lunch is Joe’s Farm Grill. It’s a great place to step outside and enjoy some great food and the beautiful Arizona weather with co-workers or friends.
What’s your favorite dinner spot (or place for a chat over drinks)?
The best place to meet in Gilbert for drinks is Postino in downtown Gilbert. With the original location in Phoenix, it was great when Postino opened a location in Gilbert. It’s always packed and has a great indoor and outdoor atmosphere.
What’s your favorite place to work in your city, aside from your office?
My favorite place to work in Gilbert is at The Coffee Shop in Agritopia. Not only can you indulge in your favorite espresso and treat, but there is a small, quiet room in the back of the restaurant where you can plug in and crank out work.
What is your favorite memory from Arizona?
When I was a teenager, my grandparents, who have been Arizona residents since the 1980’s, took me to the Tonto Natural Bridge just north of Payson. Before it became a state park, my sister and I were able to hike down an adventurous, steep path to the bottom of the bridge, which is now closed to the public. It was so breathtaking, and I had no idea there was such a beautiful gem just an hour and a half drive from Phoenix.
Image by The Coffee Shop.
What is something about living in Arizona that only a local would know of?
Arizona is not just made of cowboys, spurs and horses. Yes, you can still get a glimpse of cowboy life here; however, Arizona is the perfect place for fostering growth in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. Between the beautiful weather, cost of living, and entrepreneurial support system, Arizona has so much to offer startups and emerging growth companies.
Any tips for new Arizona residents?
Get plugged into the local community. There are a numerous amount of resources waiting to be shared, and experts willing to invest their time with you.