Arizona – Entrepreneurship Is NOT the Problem

People make a lot of noise about what is wrong with Arizona – and specifically our ability to start and sustain technology companies. Most of it is pointless blather and pompous windbaggery – here is why:

The problem is we have too many people who want to be the expert, advance their point of view or prove how freaking smart they are instead of doing one of the only three things that will change it:

  • Found a Technology company in Arizona
  • Invest in an Arizona Technology Company
  • Engage in making changes in our Public (because that’s all we’ve got) education system

Everything else is noise.

I admit I have not read the entire report from the Milken Institute entitled Charting a Course for Arizona’s Technology-Based Economic Development but I’m willing to bet the phrase “creative class” never appears once. You know what does?

Arizona actually ranks 3rd in the country for number of business starts per 100,000 people; it also places 12th for the percentage of business births in the high-tech sector. But too many high-tech firms fold or leave the state, and Arizona has only five firms ranked in Deloitte and Touche’s Fast 500 company list. Addressing human capital concerns and increasing access to venture capital would jumpstart the right kind of long-term development.

I’ll bet you didn’t see that one coming. How about:

Perhaps the single greatest threat to Arizona’s high-tech future is the fact that the state does not develop and retain enough skilled technicians, scientists, and engineers. In terms of sheer numbers, Arizona seems to produce sufficient graduates in science and engineering, but many are foreign-born and therefore more likely to return home, either due to preference or to a limited number of available work visas.

Shocking – our Universities actually produce “sufficient graduates”. Or my personal favorite:

Arizona will clearly be on the right track when it achieves solid gains in the indicators measuring whether local high-tech growth outpaces the national average; in recent years, it has fallen behind in these measures.

I defy anyone to tell me they are shocked by this or fundamentally disagree with that finding.

The problems, and their solutions, have been obvious for years:

  • We need a robust public/private R&D partnership
    • We get private organizations and companies openly bashing our Educators and Institutions without making any attempt to partner with them and create systemic change.
    • We get Universities who blatantly attempt leverage “incubators” as a source of revenue.
  • We need an active investor class
    • We get realestate investors who have no affinity with technology looking for a guaranteed 4% (to replace their realestate investments).
    • We get pay to pitch events, endless gatekeeper organizations, and every imaginable mechanism possible to keep actual investors from talking to actual founders.
  • We need jobs for the quality Math, Science and Engineering students our Universities churn out.
    • We get organizations who complain about how much our Higher Education System sucks – and watch the best and brightest they turn out go to CA, UT, OR and NM
    • We get a legislature that thinks shipping in University students from overseas/out of state is a great way to reduce education costs borne by the state.

We are failing – across the board, by any measure EXCEPT our ability to plan events, talk, point fingers and sit on the sidelines doing nothing.

We don’t have an entrepreneurship problem – we are 3rd in the nation for new companies and 12th for technology companies – we have an attitude problem.

It is time to drop the “it happens my way or I’m not playing” attitude and start engaging – across organizational, belief, strategy and ideological lines to generate results.

Because I swear to you – as a Founder of a Arizona based Technology Company – the next organization that spouts off about how “we’ve got it all right and everyone else is stupid” will earn my wrath.

Found, Invest, Engage or Shut Up.

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