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Tucson Changemakers Update from Dre Thompson, President of Groundswell Capital

Dear Members of the Tucson Community,

At Groundswell Capital, the non-profit arm of the Tucson Industrial Development Authority (Tucson IDA), we are dedicated to forwarding a thriving, resilient, and equitable Arizona. We achieve this by offering financial, social, and knowledge capital to our local business owners, entrepreneurs, and developers, with a commitment to equitable access and bilingual resources.

As part of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) Groundswell Capital partnered with the City of Tucson to deploy $1,000,000 to support thriving local small businesses. Leveraging data from the SBA and our own Capital Landscape Study, we formulated a multi-prong initiative to optimize the use of these funds for sustained impact on our community. We would love to share the results of this work and how our team ensured fairness and equity throughout the process.

large group of small business owners with their families and Mayor Romero
Tucson Changemakers Growth Grant Winners pictured with Mayor Regina Romero.

Tucson Changemakers Grants

The Changemakers Grant Program directly funded 67 local small businesses, with grants ranging between $700 and $10,000. These funds were designed to help launch, upskill, grow, “green”, and celebrate the businesses that make our community strong.

Businesses could apply for these grants in Spanish or English, and in the weeks leading up to the grant submission due date we hosted over 300 small businesses for bilingual grant submission support. Additionally, we coordinated with volunteer grant writers to further support small businesses who requested extra help writing the grant project description.

Through canvassing communities, markets, and business districts, we connected personally with over 1,500 small businesses across the city of Tucson. In the end, we received over 500 applications for the Tucson Changemakers grants. Over 70% of those applications were from women and minority-owned businesses, and 20% were Spanish-language submissions, indicating our outreach efforts to connect with a diverse community of businesses were successful.

three community members listening to speaker
Firestarter partner, Liz Pocock, Chief Executive Officer, listens to Mayor Romero's announcement of Tucson Changemakers $1,000,000 in funding for Tucson small businesses.

Firestarter Program

In order for our economy and community to thrive, Tucson needs a robust ecosystem of diverse entrepreneurial support organizations working collaboratively for the benefit of small businesses. Through the Firestarter Program, Groundswell Capital was able to leverage partnerships with organizations such as Startup Tucson, BLAX Friday, SERI, Startup Unidos, Local First Arizona, A Better Community, Growth Partners Arizona, and the City of Tucson Small Business Program to magnify great work that is already happening and add new programming for small businesses.

Totaling in $114,000, this initiative resulted in a Black business market, scholarships for Green Business Certifications, funding for Black-owned businesses, women-owned business programming, accelerator courses for creatives and food entrepreneurs, and air-quality improvements for several enterprises.

Smiling woman in plaid shirt with another woman talking in the background.
Francisca, owner of Sushi Zuzu, beams after using Semillas funds to fulfill her dream of purchasing a food truck.

Semillas Microloan Fund

Through the support of the City of Tucson we were also able to establish a revolving micro-loan fund, providing low-interest loans to small businesses without the barriers of credit or collateral. This fund, kick-started by the City, will continue to be an ongoing resource for our community to spur new jobs and economic opportunities for years to come.


Wrapping around each of these we also used the funds to provide direct coaching, bilingual accounting and financial services, and one-to-one bilingual loan and grant application support for small businesses.

By removing barriers, amplifying grassroots outreach, and increasing support we wanted to make every possible effort to ensure the process was equitable and inclusive. Below we have listed some of the common FAQs we have fielded and shared a little bit more about Tucson Changemakers for those who what to learn more about the process, our mission, and the values that drove program decisions and designs.

woman speaking at mic and podium surroiunded by coworkers
Groundswell Capital's Liliana delivers a warm welcome to the Tucson Changemakers Grant Awardees.

On March 1st, 2024 at the Changemakers awards ceremony, hosted by Mayor Regina Romero, we were able to celebrate our small businesses community and Tucson’s resilience in the face of many challenges. We look forward to following the progress of these grant recipients and their initiatives, with a comprehensive report anticipated in June of 2024.

Our interaction with the numerous small businesses through the Tucson Changemakers initiative has reinforced Groundswell Capital’s commitment to fostering an environment where local small businesses can thrive.

Each application we received was a testament to the entrepreneurial spirit that defines our community, and it is this spirit that drives us to continue our work in transforming Tucson. We extend our heartfelt gratitude to every business that shared their vision with us. Your aspirations inspire our ongoing efforts to effect meaningful change in our community.

Warm Regards,

Dre Thompson

President, Groundswell Capital


How Did You Make Sure Small Businesses Were Aware of the Program?

Groundswell Capital invested significant effort in outreach, both traditional and direct, in Spanish and in English, across the community to ensure widespread awareness of this special opportunity. These efforts included our team canvassing in business districts, at farmer’s markets, and in opportunity zones, resulting in over 500 applications received.

How Did You Assist With Applications?

To facilitate an equitable application process, Groundswell Capital hosted bilingual workshops, both in-person and online, offering application assistance to those who attended. We also enlisted a team of local writers and business coaches to provide additional support in the form of grant application reviews and business plan development.

How Did You Select Winners?

A rigorous two-tier review process was implemented to evaluate the applications. This involved an initial qualification and point system review by an impartial expert grant reviewer who did not and had not lived in Tucson, followed by a detailed assessment by a diverse committee of local community members, experienced in business, non-profit, sustainability, and community development. The latter comprehensive review session culminated in the selection of grant awardees, each chosen for their potential to positively impact both their business and the broader community.

What Benefits Are There for Non-Recipients of Grants?

For those applications that were not selected, it was important to us that we acknowledge the dedication and significant contributions of each applicant. Via email, we communicated the number of applications, recognized the considerable efforts put forth, and provided exclusive access to invaluable resources. This email included an offer of complimentary professional consulting services, first-access to Firestarter Grant opportunities, and early access to HUUB, a prominent business resource platform newly introduced in Tucson.


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