Eller College of Management Economic Development Program

May 16, 2024
Economic Development Program

The Economic Development Program in the Eller College of Management offers community members of all walks of life the opportunity to learn about the elements of a business plan in a college-like setting. 

The program started back in 2011, when a grant from the Chase Foundation was given to the University of Arizona for economic development.

“It was an opportunity to teach community members not just about building a business plan, but about all of the elements that go into it and how each one is important,” says Ildefonso “Poncho” Chavez, director of the Economic Development Program.

“In Spring 2024, I had the privilege of participating in the Eller Business Certificate Program run by Professor Chavez,” says Gabriela Reynaga-Iniguez. “The program aimed at empowering small business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs like myself to elevate their businesses.” 

Economic Development Program

One of the most important elements that Chavez likes the students to take away from the program is the mission of the business. “Why are you creating this business? Who are you creating it for? What is your business going to offer to the community?,” he says.

The six-week course—offered to participants at no charge—began with a class size of 54 students and has now grown to a 240 student class with 70 percent of those students being from diverse backgrounds.  “Every Tuesday evening for six weeks, these sessions became the highlight of my week, offering me a sense of community among a diverse group of over 100 people,” says Reynaga-Iniguez. “One particularly enlightening session was the ‘Managing your Mission’, where we worked on finding a purpose for our business and finding different ways to succeed. The two-day session also involved fun activities which gave us an opportunity to work with our peers. One of the activities involved creating a tower using spaghetti, tape, yarn, and a marshmallow. The tallest tower wins. Not only did this activity teach me about teamwork, but also to not over analyze things and just do it. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” 

“When the program first started, we envisioned younger students being most interested in the course,” said Chavez. “But our participants have been very diverse—our oldest student has been 94 years old and has been one of our most enthusiastic students!”

At the end of each session, participants of the program get to have a graduation-like ceremony where they can invite their friends and family to celebrate their accomplishments with them as they receive their certificates. The Spring 2024 course had 202 students with 150 graduates—the remaining students elected to participate in specific classes instead of the whole program.

Through this program I deepened my understanding of business fundamentals and also gained the confidence and tools to take my small business journey to new heights,” says Reynaga-Iniguez.

The opportunity that students of the Economic Development Program get goes way beyond learning about the elements of a business plan and how to build one. “Many of the students that participate in the program are community members who have not had the chance to get a college education,” says Chavez. “And this program gives them a taste of what it feels like to be a university student.”