Inspired by her immigrant parents, she’s helping to build Phoenix’s startup community
Jenny Poon founded the CO+HOOTS Foundation to support women, minorities, and youth entrepreneurs
Meet the finalists for The Atlantic’s Renewal Awards, underwritten by Allstate. These individuals are the forces behind the 25 nonprofits competing for $100,000 in grant money. Five winners will be announced March 30 at The Renewal Summit in Washington, on TheAtlantic.com, and here, on The Renewal Project.
Jenny Poon, co-founder of CO+HOOTS and the CO+HOOTS Foundation, came from an immigrant family. As a child, she watched her parents “scale their business up and down while facing racism and injustice.”
Now, at the CO+HOOTS coworking space she hosts hackathons, bootcamps, and educational programming, to give back to the Phoenix community—especially women, minorities, and youth entrepreneurs.
This questionnaire has been edited for length and clarity.
Describe your community:
Our community consists of Phoenix-area residents of all demographics with an emphasis on women and minorities and youth.
When did you start your community work?
We started our community work of growing the entrepreneurial ecosystem in 2010. We expanded on that work in 2014 to focus on bringing and increasing underrepresented communities into the innovation space. We are extremely focused on building a community that is equitable and sustainable for all who live and work in the Valley.
What inspired you to do this work?
I come from an immigrant background. My parents were refugees who came to America with nothing. Growing up, I was their interpreter at times and over the years, I saw them scale their business up and down while facing racism and injustice. Today, they own one of the oldest restaurants in their neighborhood in Minneapolis and they have become the backbone for the culture of that community. Through their journey of chasing the American dream, I was able to find my passion for helping people who have similar disadvantages to receive the same fair shot as anyone else at chasing their dreams. I saw the value in building communities and the impact a strong community has on all its residents. I hope to continue to further this legacy.
What ways are you helping to make your community thrive?
We host hackathons and weekend-long entrepreneur bootcamps to help youth experience startup life first hand. We host business scaling programs and offer free educational programming so anyone who wants to launch something has the opportunity to try. We offer educational, empowering programs to continually improve the skills of Phoenix citizens. We also engage all those who have benefited from our programs to give back by mentoring future entrepreneurs, or volunteering or sharing their expertise with others. We believe this collaborative spirit breeds a culture of generosity that is so needed in the world right now and is the reason why Phoenix’s culture is so different from any other startup ecosystem.
What do you love about your community?
I absolutely love how generous people are here. Every day, we will walk in to a room full of people who are hustling and busting their butts to make their dreams come true and they will drop everything to help a fellow entrepreneur in need. When we host youth events, we get more volunteers than we do participants. There is an overwhelming culture of giving back and helping others here and I believe that comes from being one of the cities that was hit hardest by the recession. When you have nothing, a little bit of kindness goes a long way. Generosity is one of our core values and is what we constantly reinforce here in our organization.
What’s one thing you want outsiders to know about your community?
This is an innovation community that values inclusiveness and welcomes all dreamers. We are a safe place for entrepreneurs—no matter their age, race, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status—to fail, launch, and scale.
What leader or leaders inspired you?
I’m in awe of many female leaders. My mother is my biggest role model. She is a scrappy, fiery, driven woman who sacrificed so much to get me through college, raise three children, build three businesses—and she dragged me along through it all. As a result I am the first woman in my family to graduate from a university and I have absorbed all of her entrepreneurial super powers. She taught me how to be strong but also how to be kind and to care for others. She reminds me constantly that when we die, we can’t take any possessions with us so we better leave a legacy!