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Microsoft in your community

Sparking entrepreneurial spirit and youth leadership opportunities in Phoenix

According to research from the University of Arizona and Johns Hopkins, 40 percent of Arizona students graduate unprepared for the emerging economy. The CO+HOOTS Foundation, founded in Phoenix in 2014, aims to address this by connecting people through entrepreneurship, collaboration, and innovation to build an equitable future.

Youth ChangeMaker Summit logo

Investing in educational events for local youth

In 2019, Microsoft contributed $7,000 toward the Youth ChangeMaker Summit (YCMS) in Goodyear (a suburb of Phoenix), an entrepreneurship event for high school students presented by the CO+HOOTS Foundation. The YCMS is a three-day immersive event meant to empower students to develop solutions that improve problems they experience in their home communities. The event’s goals are many, but ultimately YCMS strives to engage students from underrepresented communities in startup culture. At the end of the most recent event, 100 percent of ChangeMaker attendees reported that they saw entrepreneurship as a career opportunity, versus 30 percent before the summit. Additionally, all of the ChangeMakers would recommend YCMS to a peer and would attend again in the future.

Microsoft’s contribution covered the entire cost of hosting the 2019 Goodyear event, as the CO+HOOTS Foundation was also gifted the use of the event space, and going forward, the Foundation plans to use Microsoft employees as subject matter experts at the summit. The CO+HOOTS Foundation has implemented a model of shared investment from local private donors and public municipalities. This model has proven successful for both the initial expansion and continued sustainability of the event.

Working with a local foundation to improve entrepreneurial skills

The CO+HOOTS Foundation was created to drive long-term positive change in the community and to enable succcess through entrepreneurship, collaboration, and innovation. Since its founding, the CO+HOOTS Foundation has hosted four Youth ChangeMaker Summits, empowered more than 3,000 entrepreneurs to launch their dream projects, and collaborated with over 20 community organizations to build a more equitable community for entrepreneurship. The group’s overarching goal is equity in entrepreneurship—for the face of entrepreneurship in Arizona to mirror the face of Arizona itself by the year 2030.

people brainstorming

The CO+HOOTS Foundation does this by activating talent, building business, and connecting Arizona. YCMS is the group’s hallmark event for talent activation at the high school level. In order to build business, CO+HOOTS holds MidWeek MindTweaks (MWMT), workshops where experts from a variety of industries and walks of life share their expertise and spark entrepreneurial conversations. Past topics have included digital marketing strategy, budgeting, and connecting with community. Lastly, to better connect entrepreneurs with resources in their community, CO+HOOTS offers free monthly Community Advisement Days. Local legal firms and financial advisors offer their advising services to help startup entrepreneurs navigate the business landscape and build the connections they need.

Offering additional leadership opportunities for area youth

The YCMS events serve Phoenix-area youth, including students from Scottsdale, Goodyear, and Peoria. To date, over 500 students have attended from 15 neighborhoods. The latest summit in Goodyear served a diverse group of 44 participants, with over 47 percent female attendees. Half of the attendees were Latinx, 11.1 percent African American, and 5.6 percent Asian.

In 2018, a CO+HOOTS Foundation youth advisory council called the HOOT Squad was created to allow previous YCMS participants to continue their entrepreneurship journey. The council provides ongoing youth leadership opportunities for members, and, as of spring 2020, YCMS events will be entirely youth-led. The HOOT Squad will be responsible for planning, designing, and running the events, making the CO+HOOTS Foundation the first fully youth-led organization in the Phoenix area. Lani, a three-time YCMS attendee and founding member of the HOOT Squad, says, “Making this a youth-led event has changed the way we all think about this work—as integral parts of its success, not just participants in an event.” The HOOT Squad members are high school and college students who meet regularly to engage in skill-building sessions, learn from local business leaders, and practice facilitating training.

According to Dimitri Zakharov, CO+HOOTS Foundation Youth Programs Committee Member, “HOOT Squad allows this group of youth to foster local communities of entrepreneurs directly through the summits that they plan.” Zakharov added “For them, this isn’t just a practice activity—this is the real deal.” The council takes on every facet of planning the summit, including securing venues and food vendors, recruiting mentors and judges, securing sponsorships, marketing the event, and facilitating the event itself. This hands-on planning experience allows HOOT Squad members to practice the skills they’ve learned as YCMS participants and gives them the opportunity to affect the young entrepreneurs who follow them.