Advancing Enterprise: How Big Business Is Working to Empower Small Business

by RaeAnne Marsh

As much as business can be a cutthroat world with individual companies fighting for their space in it, it’s also true that it’s an interconnected world in which “a rising tide lifts all boats,” to use the phrase made popular by President John F. Kennedy.

This month, In Business Magazine sought out some of the major businesses and organizations in our community to highlight how they are, deliberately and specifically, helping smaller businesses succeed and grow.

How Plug and Play accelerateAZ is growing the next generation of Arizona startups

Arizona Commerce Authority
from Sandra Watson, President & CEO

Arizona’s startup community is among the most welcoming, and most innovative, in the world. Home to seasoned entrepreneurs and early-stage startups, Arizona is a destination for developing, launching and scaling new innovations.

Arizona’s innovation ecosystem got a big boost last year as the Arizona Commerce Authority announced a new partnership with Plug and Play known as Plug and Play accelerateAZ, a program of the ACA. The initiative was launched to support the growth of Arizona’s vibrant startup ecosystem and foster connections between the state’s talented entrepreneurs and industry-leading companies.

At the time of the initiative’s launch in April 2023, Saeed Amidi, CEO and founder of Plug and Play, said, “We’re incredibly excited to be working with the Arizona Commerce Authority and a truly world-class group of founding partners across the semiconductor, aerospace and mobility industries. This level of engagement is a testament to the ACA’s commitment to bringing business, innovation and investment to the state, and we’re looking forward to accelerating entrepreneurs in Arizona.”

Within the last year, Plug and Play accelerateAZ has launched two programs: the Advanced Manufacturing Accelerator program, which has selected 27 startups across two cohorts since launching in 2023, and most recently, the Sustainability Accelerator program in May 2024.

In addition, startups are supported by Advanced Manufacturing Accelerator anchor partners, which include industry leaders Intel, Honeywell Aerospace, Raytheon Missiles & Defense and NXP. The corporate partners support the startups in the program, providing a link between startups and industry to increase collaboration and fuel startup growth.

The Sustainability program will support the growth of Arizona startups in areas that include renewable energy, water resiliency, sustainable mining, circular materials and carbon neutrality. The program will accelerate two batches of startups per year, connecting them to leading corporate partners to be announced later this year, to foster sustainability-focused collaborations.

Over the last decade and more, the ACA has worked closely with our innovation partners to advance our startup ecosystem and create new opportunities for Arizona entrepreneurs. The Sustainability program represents an exciting new chapter to support sustainability-focused startups in our state and build on the success of the Advanced Manufacturing program. We look forward to leveraging this unique program to help more early-stage Arizona businesses scale.

Plug and Play accelerateAZ builds on the ACA’s steadfast commitment to grow the state’s startup ecosystem and part of the ACA’s mission to strengthen and grow Arizona’s economy. These efforts include the launch of the Arizona Innovation Challenge, one of the largest business plan competitions in the country. Since 2011, the program has produced 130 awardees from more than 2,700 applicants, representing a combined portfolio value of more than $2.5 billion.

Sandra Watson is president and CEO at the Arizona Commerce Authority, the state’s leading economic development organization with a streamlined mission to grow and strengthen Arizona’s economy. 

Pro-business options aid SMBs in the healthcare arena and beyond

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona
from Pam Kehaly, President & CEO

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona offers affordable and flexible health insurance plans that meet both the needs and budgets of small and mid-size businesses. We also aim to provide access to education, networking, funding and mentoring support.

Our pro-business efforts include partnering with the Arizona Technology Council to offer small businesses in the technology sector the opportunity to purchase benefits the same way large businesses can.

We work alongside local organizations, including the Arizona Commerce Authority, to offer workshops that provide guidance to companies looking to buy insurance for the first time or to learn more about how benefits work. We also work closely with rural economic development organizations to sponsor workshops and events that these businesses would not typically have access to.

Additionally, we sponsor the Venture Café, a gathering of entrepreneurs and start-ups, where they get to network and enjoy organized presentations on business topics.

And, along with establishing a mentorship program for small, local and diverse businesses that are just starting out or preparing to launch a new business and need some added support with things like HR issues or marketing, we have implemented a Supplier Diversity Program, which promotes opportunities for local, minority-owned, women-owned, veteran-owned, disabled-owned, LGBTQ-owned, service-disabled and small businesses.

AZ Blue is a trusted leader committed to helping Arizonans get healthier faster and stay healthier longer. We have spent more than 85 years working hard to take care of not only our members but also partners, communities and businesses across the state.

Small businesses are the heartbeat of Arizona’s economy. Bustling with entrepreneurs and mom-and-pop shops, Arizona is the fourth-fastest-growing state in the nation for small businesses. Valued employees are essential to their success and, in today’s competitive job market, providing health insurance is a key strategy for attracting and retaining talent. We want small businesses to stay and thrive in Arizona. By empowering them, AZ Blue can boost employment rates, drive economic growth and support hard-working Arizonans.

Pam Kehaly is president and CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona; with a mission to inspire health and make it easy, AZ Blue offers health insurance and related services to more than 2 million customers.

Tech tools and cloud services help SMBs thrive

Cox Business Arizona
from Ed Aaronson, Vice President

Small business owners already have so many hats to wear, from salespersons and marketers to managers and more. They should not have to also be the chief technology officer and AI implementer at the same time. Technology can be the pathway to increasing profitability and productivity. Cox Business understands the unique needs of small and mid-size businesses and has developed products and services for the Arizona business community that can adapt to fit its needs intuitively, so a business team can focus on what matters.

Cox Business was the first cable operator to offer specific business services back in 1993. Being at the forefront of innovation has been our company’s M.O. from day one. Today, we provide the multi-gig fiber internet backbone that supports connected environments, unique hospitality experiences and diverse applications for Arizona businesses and 370,000 businesses nationwide.

Cox Business managed IT cloud solutions provide reliable, innovative and secure services, all complete with white-glove service and full management options. Imagine having a full IT department of technology professionals at the ready to address your business needs around the clock, every day. To help small businesses thrive, Cox Business provides and administers cloud services and applications to help small and mid-size businesses operate like large, enterprise-scale businesses.

For example, Microsoft 365, administered by RapidScale, a Cox Business company, takes team collaboration and efficiency to a new level. Applications included: Planner, SharePoint, Teams (chat video), Apps & Workflow (automating process), Bookings (scheduling staff) and MileIQ (which tracks mileage for field/sales reps).

Copilot is a generative AI application that works with Microsoft 365. Using Copilot, meeting notes can be transcribed, action item lists can be created, and the application can even generate recommended next steps for follow-up. This AI application can also help a business owner evaluate software options or review a lease agreement in mere minutes, summarizing key points. AI could even tell business owners the top 10 trade shows within their industry, compile attendance figures, estimate costs for participation, etc. All tasks that might take an employee a day to research can be done with the help of this technology. In fact, Cox Business recently released results from a survey of small business owners that showed a majority believe AI had a positive impact on customers’ experience through online order product/service recommendations, online order placement, website chatbots and customer service calls. Two-thirds of those surveyed invested in AI last year.

Other technology tools that Cox Business provides Arizona businesses to help them thrive include Desktop as a Service (DaaS), which creates a common desktop image for employee groups, including application icons, that prevent the risk of outside intrusion and provide the ability to adjust to workforce contraction/expansion. DaaS allows business owners to take work on the plane, at home or anywhere there is internet, so the workplace is expanded, ending the need to physically be in the office to access applications and software or to get on the business’s network. And Cox Business Managed Wi-Fi helps retail, medical, financial and other entities with multiple locations provide Wi-Fi for customers while supporting modern payment options and store location POS systems.

Cox used to be known as the cable company where customers got their internet, phone and TV services. While today these services are still at the company’s core, Cox has evolved to become the largest private broadband company in America. The company wants to be a strategic, seamless and helpful technology bridge for businesses to the future. Already, Cox operates fiber-powered networks in more than 30 states, providing connections and advanced managed IT and cloud services for nearly seven million homes and businesses nationwide.

Cox will continue to make multibillion-dollar annual infrastructure investments over the next several years because we must stay ahead of the curve as technology advances. As the internet backbone and strategic partner for the latest business productivity applications, the Cox Business team will continue to keep business clients one step ahead of their competition for decades to come.

Ed Aaronson is vice president of Cox Business Arizona. Cox Business, the commercial division of Cox Communications, provides a broad commercial solutions portfolio.

Extensive business courses help professionals with timely content

Enterprise Bank & Trust
from Brian Crisp, Regional President, Arizona

While we’ve always been focused on guiding people to a lifetime of financial success, one of the unique ways that we help businesses thrive is through Enterprise University, a one-of-a-kind business training series offered at no cost to attendees. While a lot of organizations offer learning opportunities here and there, Enterprise University takes business training to another level.

For more than two decades, Enterprise has offered a series of business training courses designed to help professionals through thought-provoking interactive classes promoting workforce development and continuous learning. Courses are taught by practicing professionals who are subject matter experts in their industry. There is a spring and fall semester every year, offering live, virtual interaction from any location. Attendees can take one class, or many.

Course topics are both timely and current, covering subjects that include management and leadership, finance and operations, human resources, sales and marketing. They offer actionable strategies and ideas that teams can implement right away to stay ahead in a competitive and dynamic business environment.

Compared by many attendees to sought-after, paid professional development and business training courses, the program is highly regarded for offering quantifiable value to businesses and professionals at no cost and without any requirement to have an account with Enterprise. Rob Libera, CEO and executive director of Lafayette Industries, is one of many business leaders who have attended Enterprise University courses alongside their employees and continues to share his positive feedback with us. “I’ve personally been to one of the leading business schools in the country to get an executive education, and Enterprise University matches that,” Libera says.

Enterprise operates more than 40 branches in Nevada, Arizona, California, Florida, Kansas, Missouri and New Mexico, but these courses are virtual and can be accessed from anywhere. We believe this has a great reach and impact with a true ripple effect, and the continued buildout of programming and topics has been extremely rewarding.

In its 21-year history, Enterprise University has welcomed numerous course attendances, representing business leaders across the country who often return year after year to continue learning new skills.

The most recent semesters of Enterprise University have covered such topics as cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, beating burnout and adopting a seller’s mindset — underscoring our commitment to remaining current and relevant to the needs of today’s business leaders. We think this has been so successful because of how our leadership holds Enterprise University to a standard of high integrity, managed with an organized team who develop classes through in-depth planning alongside the educators and curriculum.

This approach ensures we are providing impactful content that speaks to our business communities — even those who might not utilize Enterprise’s banking services — and gives them an opportunity to learn and improve their own operations.

In addition to live Enterprise University courses, Enterprise provides many past courses on demand and additional educational resources on our website and social media.

Another signature program from Enterprise is®, a podcast for business leaders across the region who want to build powerful connections, cultivate relationships and keep business relationships healthy and strong. Each episode features business owners and leaders in a dynamic, interview-style conversation with host Alana Muller, an entrepreneurial executive leader whose primary focus is to connect, inspire and empower communities. The podcast encourages listeners to take away lessons and tips on a variety of topics, directly from seasoned business minds. With themes of networking, entrepreneurship, leadership and more, the episodes explore a wide array of topics within their 15- to 30-minute episodes. Timely reports, articles and more can be viewed with no account required and no cost by visiting the Enterprise website.

Reflecting on Enterprise’s mission of guiding people to a lifetime of financial success, we empower privately held businesses to succeed, helping families to secure their financial futures, and invest to advance the quality of life in the communities we serve. We strongly believe that fulfilling Enterprise’s mission by providing resources helps to create a stronger and more prosperous community, so we are committed to Corporate Citizenship under the bank’s Guiding Principles. This includes acting as a consultative strategic partner to our communities by providing business educational tools, such as Enterprise University, to help businesses and communities thrive.

As employee retention continues to hold immense value, one thing for employers to keep in mind is how many employees crave training and development opportunities. Having access to professional development courses not only helps employees grow and learn, but they bring those expanded skills to their role and consider them in their long-term career decisions, providing employers with benefits as well.

Enterprise University not only helps to fortify training and development offerings, but also challenges business owners to think strategically and collectively to develop and support a thriving business community by suggesting these courses to anyone who wants to attend — at no cost.

From the outset, we wanted the programming to be focused on a robust and diverse group of local business leaders who are experts in the subjects, rather than on the bank itself. These are real people speaking to real concerns and issues in the business world, with participants reporting positive experiences with the courses.

As we have adapted and grown the program, we have ensured the content offers value to all audiences. This includes scheduling introductory, intermediate and executive courses that invite professionals at any point in their careers.

The success of businesses in the communities we serve benefits everybody and creates better places to live and work. We’re proud of the impact Enterprise University continues to have and the positive education experience it provides year after year.

Brian Crisp is the Arizona Region president for Enterprise Bank & Trust, a growing financial services partner focused on guiding people to a lifetime of financial success.

Innovative technology fosters inclusive entrepreneurship

from Kami Hoskins, Sr. Director of Legal and Head of Corporate Sustainability and ESG

At GoDaddy, we support our customers and foster inclusive entrepreneurship with innovative technology and best-in-class human-centered guidance. Inclusive entrepreneurship means that everyone — no matter their age, race, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic background, location or other experience or identify — should have the opportunity to pursue their independent ventures and forge their own path.

As a trusted growth partner to millions of entrepreneurs globally, we recognize that the entrepreneurial journey is as diverse and unique as the entrepreneurs themselves. And we know that barriers along each entrepreneur’s journey are not experienced equally. In 2017, we launched Empower by GoDaddy, our global social impact program. We partner with nonprofit and community organizations and engage our employee volunteers to provide education, mentoring and networking to help underserved small and microbusiness owners grow their businesses online and in-person.

In 2023, we evaluated our program for areas of improvement, including carefully analyzing our impact and opportunities for growth to better serve more entrepreneurs. We learned through a gap analysis that there was potential for our program to have an even broader impact by increasing our support for Latinx, LGBTQIA+, veteran and formerly incarcerated entrepreneur communities. In 2024, we announced we would carry forward with five new and seven returning partners across the U.S. to offer our programs and amplify our reach. One of our returning partners since 2019 is the Better Business Bureau Serving the Pacific Southwest, an organization that serves established and early-stage entrepreneurs in the Greater Arizona and Southern California regions who are eager to increase revenue, improve their online presence and grow ethically.

Through the BBB, we had the pleasure of meeting Phoenix-based entrepreneur Ade McCray, founder and owner of Pilates King L.L.C. He shares, “I had a clear vision for my business but there were just some nuances in running a business that I needed support with. Getting involved with Empower by GoDaddy helped me to make sense of all that goes into business ownership, and my operations are getting much better.”

As reported in our 2023 Sustainability Report, we’ve taken innovation for our customers to new heights with the launch of GoDaddy Airo™. GoDaddy Airo™ helps our customers using GenAI technology to, in just a few moments, find unique names for their businesses and automatically create website options, email addresses, social posts and much more. It has never been easier for GoDaddy customers to get started with their ideas or grow their existing businesses.

The success of our customers drives innovation, fuels local economies globally, increases generational wealth, decreases wealth gaps and, ultimately, improves lives.

Our mission to “empower entrepreneurs everywhere, making opportunity more inclusive for all” is a driving force that brings us together. Most of GoDaddy’s customers are microbusiness owners with fewer than 10 employees. According to our Venture Forward research, more than half of them are solopreneurs, both business owners and employees themselves. They are resilient and inspiring, making a difference for their families, with approximately one in three contributing 51% or more to household income. In the U.S., they also elevate their local communities by adding seven jobs per microbusiness entrepreneur at the county level.

Additionally, more U.S. microbusinesses are using GenAI to grow and compete, with 50% of owners and operators recently surveyed indicating they have tried GenAI tools in the past few months. Our latest research indicates GenAI is already showing early potential to help level the playing field for small businesses as they go up against larger and often better-resourced competitors. GenAI users also have a more positive outlook about their business (81%) and the national economy (40%).

Kami Hoskins is senior director of legal and head of corporate sustainability and ESG at GoDaddy, the world’s largest services platform for entrepreneurs around the globe.

Energy evaluation is one part of programs to aid businesses’ expansion

Salt River Project
from Vanessa Kisicki, Associate General Manager and Chief Customer Executive

SRP has supported the growth of the Phoenix metropolitan area for more than 100 years and remains committed to providing reliable, affordable and sustainable power and water to help residents and businesses thrive.

To meet the growing energy needs of one of the fastest-growing areas of the country, SRP is taking significant, industry-leading steps to decarbonize its generation portfolio. In the last year alone, we have doubled the amount of utility-scale solar energy on the grid and are proud of the fact that our customers are benefiting from enough clean energy to power nearly 500,000 homes. Even more clean energy is part of our plan to meet the significant growth in projected power demand. Over the next decade, SRP will retire most of our coal generation and double the size of our current electrical system with new carbon-free generation and new storage resources. SRP’s future generation mix also includes new fast-ramping natural gas units to help maintain a balanced, low-cost grid; better integrate intermittent renewables, and meet our customers’ year-round energy needs.

As our residential and commercial customer base continues to grow, SRP also looks for ways to help our small businesses succeed, with customer care and energy saving rebate programs aimed at their specific needs.

SRP works closely with its small business customers to give them the tools, options and support they need to manage their SRP account — helping them save them time and money so they can focus on other aspects of their business. Our business customers each have a dedicated Strategic Energy Manager. The SEM is just one call away to help them navigate utility bills and find ways to save — offering guidance on how to improve energy efficiency, optimize payment plans and take part in rebates. SRP offers a variety of rebates, including those for lighting upgrades and refrigeration maintenance, electric vehicle charging and fleet transition, and business electrification. We also have programs to support a business’s expansion and energy system evaluations to make sure it is as energy and cost efficient as possible. A customer’s SEM can easily help determine which rebates can provide the most impact and then help them apply. An overview of SRP’s small business programs is available at

SRP also recognizes that we are a resource connector for businesses in Arizona. We partner with organizations such as Local First AZ, Arizona Small Business Association and several chambers of commerce to support small and mid-size businesses. These entities specialize in providing resources and services that can be tough to navigate independently. These partnerships provide businesses with unique access to peers, rebates and incentives and valuable networking opportunities.

Small and diverse businesses play a vital role in growing a strong community. SRP’s supply chain strategy includes a committed focus on managing a diverse supplier base that reflects the communities we serve. Our diverse supplier base also drives a more agile and resilient supply chain through innovative and creative approaches to meeting customer needs. SRP’s dedicated Supplier Diversity team collaborates with community partners to invest in and develop initiatives to help small and diverse business owners better position their companies as suppliers for SRP and other large companies. Small and diverse businesses interested in doing business with SRP can register on SRP’s Supplier Diversity page and reach out for more information.

SRP values our local business community and looks forward to continuing to provide them with the power, programs and partnerships to help them prosper for years to come.

Vanessa Kisicki is associate general manager and chief customer executive at SRP, a community-based, not-for-profit public power utility; it is the largest electricity provider in the Greater Phoenix metropolitan area and provides water to about half of the Valley’s residents.

Trusted platform opens markets for SMBs

from Ashley Hubka, SVP and General Manager of Walmart Business

The following are three of Walmart’s offerings for business.

Walmart Business

Walmart Business supports businesses by providing a dedicated site, app, and omnichannel experience tailored to their unique needs. Organizations can save time and simplify their business purchasing by accessing a broad range of products — including supplies across fresh and packaged food, professional items, and more, online and in-store — through the Walmart Business app. Depending on preference, organizations can pick up items curbside, have them delivered from store as soon as the same day (or within a few hours, in some instances) and shop in-person with Walmart Pay. Because Walmart Business offers multi-user accounts, multiple team members can make purchases using a shared payment method, including tax-exempt purchases for eligible organizations.

Walmart Business also helps organizations save money by offering Walmart’s Every Day Low Prices and the opportunity to redeem supplier-offered rewards. Additionally, Walmart Business provides hassle-free solutions such as subscriptions and bulk buys. For even more benefits, organizations can consider the Walmart Business+ membership, which offers additional benefits.

Walmart Marketplace

Walmart Marketplace is a smart choice for SMBs that are looking to grow, from solopreneurs to startups and rapidly growing brands. Businesses that have an item customers want need to be a Walmart seller.

We are a wise investment because we are a trusted, reputable platform, and we are very intentional about making it easy and low cost to sell on Walmart Marketplace. Sellers are in control of their businesses and can scale at their own pace and however they choose. They can easily begin selling across borders by listing on our Marketplaces in Mexico, Canada and the U.S.; later this year they will be able to list in items in Chile. In fact, our Marketplace is one of the fastest-growing eCommerce platforms in the world today. SMBs gain instant, easy access to our multi-country customer base on a level playing field that opens the door to all the opportunities that Walmart provides.

We simplified what it takes to get started. Sellers need to meet a brief list of qualifications, and, from there, it’s a three-step setup to begin onboarding. For smaller businesses, we have capital partners who can provide funds to help them get started or grow.

We have invested in training, resources and solutions to help sellers begin selling and leverage the best of Walmart to drive business results: Walmart Connect; Walmart Fulfillment Services (low cost, end-to-end fulfillment); local pickup and delivery (we are rolling out local pickup and delivery for sellers with physical stores, powered by Walmart’s last-mile delivery network, which lowers fulfillment costs while providing a new way for sellers to convert sales); and custom tools (Repricer, Assortment Growth Dashboard, etc.). Walmart Sellers also have access to a number of solution providers who provide a range of e-commerce services.

Registration is currently open for our annual seller summit.

Walmart Open Call

Walmart is strengthening its commitment to American jobs and communities with its investment of an additional $350 billion in products made, grown or assembled in America, supporting creation of more than 750,000 U.S. jobs. To support this commitment and our America at Work initiative, Walmart hosts an annual Open Call event for innovative, shelf-ready products.

Open Call — Walmart’s annual pitch competition for small businesses with products made, grown or assembled in the U.S. — is at the heart of our commitment to U.S. manufacturing. Walmart’s investments in American manufacturing have created opportunities for thousands of entrepreneurs and small business to sell their U.S.-made products in our stores or on

Through our various offerings, we’re creating a seamless experience to let families and organizations shop anytime and anywhere online and in stores, while providing the deep assortment that our customers appreciate. In turn, we’re creating opportunities and bringing value to businesses and communities.

Ashley Hubka is senior vice president and general manager of Walmart Business at Walmart Inc., an American multinational retail corporation that operates a chain of hypermarkets, discount department stores and grocery stores in the United States.

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