Aaron Eden is director of Gangplank, at the Bookmans Event Center off Irvington Road (5120 S. Julian Drive). Gangplank encourages collaboration between entrepreneurs, angel investors, creative folks and mentors, in a unique workspace lined with desks and pirate flags. Every Friday, there's a brown-bag lunch with a speaker. The idea is to create space for participants to share ideas and experiences and, eventually, create new ventures to help Tucson and Arizona. For more, visit their webpage.
How did you get involved with Gangplank?
A friend of mine in Tucson introduced me to Scott Henderson of Bookmans. I was in the process of networking with more people in Tucson. On top of Gangplank, I also work for Intuit, and have a software-development company and social-media-marketing company I run outside of Intuit. At the same time I met him, he was getting Gangplank set up in Tucson, and after he explained it to me, I was excited about the concept. That was over the course of six months.
Gangplank in Arizona started off in Chandler, and here in Tucson, Bookmans has been a big part of it, right?
Bookmans donated the space and some staff, and helped a great deal. But, yes, first it was in Chandler. Derek Neighbors is the founder. He runs a software company, and had extra space and began letting people come there and hang out. ... Friends came, and there was collaboration, and then they began having brown-bag lunches and teaching each other.
Was the idea to become an incubator space?
Originally, they thought they'd create an incubator space with ... an understanding that the future was collaborative. But they ... wanted to make Arizona a better place. Two years (ago), their lease for their space was up, and they were looking for space outside of Chandler. The city said, "No, we want you to stay." So they struck an agreement with the city. The city pays for space in exchange for Gangplank operating the programming, events and brown-bags, and initiatives.
How did it happen in Tucson?
Scott ran into Derek and learned about Gangplank, and there are ties between Derek's software company and Bookmans. ... Scott was excited about the concept, and back then, Bookmans was trying to create a store in downtown Tucson.
It's too bad for Tucson that Bookmans downtown hasn't worked out.
At the Bookmans Event Center, there's tons of room that's not being used. Scott was convinced that it would be a good thing. They donated a portion of it to Gangplank and moved their IT staff.
How do you explain Gangplank?
The short version is that Gangplank exists to make Tucson and Arizona a better place. As we move into the creative economy, it is extremely important for entrepreneurs, and for people in the community, to have diversity in order for them to be creative. Here we are, putting together artists, entrepreneurs, hackers and all these different creative types, all with an extremely diverse set of ideas. Look, even if we have a global economy, we can't all operate on a global level. But we can work together locally.
What kind of events do you have at Gangplank in Tucson?
We have our brown-bag series every Friday at noon. A different presenter comes and teaches something new, like Google Analytics or social-media marketing. It's about teaching people how to be more creative. People can submit what they'd like to learn.
Is it difficult for folks to understand what you do?
I think there are a lot of folks who are old school and very competitive about business ... but here, the philosophy is that we might as well support each other and make a place that is about collaboration over competition. Some people just don't get that. ... Previous to industrial periods, everything we did was local—we helped each other out, but through the Industrial Revolution, we've gotten away from that. Now, with technology the way it is, we can communicate with everyone around the globe, and work together to create and change at the same time.
How are you funded?
It's a unique space because it is free. We don't ask for money. In Tucson, it is all based on donations, but Gangplank Chandler and Avondale are not set up the same way. The city of Chandler pays a programming fee to offer that programming, and Avondale is similar. Gangplank Chandler helps us out, and obviously, as we continue, we would love to help them ... similar to like a library.