Are Arizona Universities Developing the Talent to Fuel the New Economy?

We like to talk a big game about growing the economy with technology startups in Arizona.  Many brag about our universities being a strong pipeline for talent to fuel that economy.  I personally haven’t seen that to be true based on my involvement in the broader startup community.  It is time we asked, are Arizona universities developing the talent to fuel the new economy? Arizona State University certainly has a monopoly with the sheer volume of students across a number of disciplines.  In 2014 they had over 72,000 students enrolled.

Arizona University Rankings

However, volume is not enough.  They also claim to have quality, ASU is ranked 88th in the world by the Academic Ranking of World Universities and 48th among all universities in the United States.  Much like standardized testing those metrics for quality don’t always pan out in the real world.  The only real metric is in the result.  How strong are the candidates for our schools in placing students (in this case in startups).

LinkedIn has a new University Ranker. They looked to answer, “Which schools are best at launching graduates into desirable jobs?”

They analyzed millions of alumni profiles to find out how schools around the world stack up across a variety of careers. Here’s how they found the top schools for software developers at startups:

  • First, they identified the top startups where software developers are choosing to work.
  • Next, they found people on LinkedIn who work as software developers and saw where they went to school.
  • Finally, for each school, they found the percentage of these alumni who’ve landed software development jobs at these startups, then compared the percentages to come up with the list.

Sadly no Arizona school cracked into the top 15.  Our neighbors University of California San Diego (UCSD) and University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) both did.  The University of Arizona did make it into the top 25 for software developers.  Again Arizona State was no where to be found, which is staggering based on the size of the student body.

How do we start to elevate the engineering mojo at our Arizona institutions of higher learning?


Arizona Innovation Summit

The Arizona Commerce Authority, MIT Enterprise Forum and the Arizona Scitech Festival put on the Arizona Innovation Summit earlier this month. It was well attended and had a wide range of innovators. Jeremy Babendure has done a fantastic job rallying the Arizona community around science and technology.

Arizona Innovation Summit

There was a mini trade show floor for organizations to share their work. Sessions of various varieties and a keynote from Logan LaPlante. Logan is 14 year old that has opened the world to the concept of Hackschooling. During lunch a number of organizers of SciTech events got together to discuss how to better work together. I believe Jeremy will be releasing something sooner than later that captured the results.

I sat with a group that had the topic of “Collaboration – Strengthening the AZ SciTech community. How do we create more opportunities for collaboration to connect with collaborators year-round?” Ideas collected:

Presence Together
Whether it be networking, cocktail hour or service events. It is apparent that there needs to be more presence with each other. Something that can be difficult with the disparate nature of Arizona’s infrastructure.

Database of Organizations
It is hard to collaborate with people that do not know what they want, but even more difficult to be found if you aren’t broadcasting it. There was mention that the AZ SciTech Festival already had started a site that contained a list of participating organizations and perhaps it just needed some more data.

Collaboration Prize
Incentivize collaboration monetarily. Have a local organization similar to The Arizona We Want annually coordinate a prize for the organizations that have collaborated together for the greatest benefit to Arizona. Similar to the Lodestar Foundation‘s The Collaboration Prize.

Workshops / Mentor (Buddy) Program
Collaboration is a skill that needs to be developed. Some organizations are doing it well, some are struggling. Regional workshops to give organizations the basic skills required and pair them with mentors to help them down the path to collaboration. (Shout out to one of my mentors that introduced me to so many people [Francine Hardaway]).

Do Shit Together
The best way to build a skill is to use it. There is way too much talking about working together in this state. It might be fun to draw interested organizations out of hat at random and pair them together.  The paired groups having six months to deliver something together. It could be a physical something, an event or who knows what…

Are any of these ideas new and stellar? No. Don’t throw them out blindly though. It is easy to say just go collaborate. It is much harder to do it in practice.  Almost impossible to do it well consistently.

I am always open to new things and working with new people. Hit me up. Let’s collaborate on something to make Arizona better.

Gangplank Connecting Citizens

There is a wealth of information out there on connecting people, human behavior and civic engagement.  The problem is how do you use it in the face of changing world.  A world that is adapting to technology at a rapid pace.  The Monitor Institute put together Connected Citizens: The Power, Peril and Potential of Networks for the Knight Foundation.  I strongly recommend if you are in the social change, connecting communities or civic engagement arena to check it out.

Connected Citizens: The Power, Potential and Peril of Networks from Knight Foundation on Vimeo.

At Gangplank our work lines up very well with the model put forward to help in connecting citizens and mobilizing them to action.  In a nutshell here are some good practices.

Listen to and consult the crowds.
Actively listen to both online and offline conversations and openly ask for advice.

  • Make participation fast and easy.
  • Show you’re listening.
  • Develop a clear contract with participants and abide by it.

Design for serendipity.
Create environments, in person and online, where helpful connections can form.

  • Make it easy to enter.
  • Build trust through repeat interactions.
  • Design the space, NOT the outcomes.

Bridge differences.
Deliberately connect people with different perspectives.

  • Develop systems for establishing reputation and trust.
  • Use influence to recruit diverse participation and catalyze bridging.
  • Make it FUN!!!

Catalyze mutual support.
Help people directly help each other.

  • Leverage existing and underutilized resources.
  • Provide enough structure for immediate benefit and enough openness for new opportunity.
  • Build trust in the system.

Provide handrails for collective action.
Give enough direction for individuals to take effective and coordinated action.

  • Give clear instructions for action.
  • Make it gratifying.
  • Build platforms that structure individual contributions into something greater.
  • Develop leadership.

We do some of these things really well. We suck at some of them. We have a number of things underway to start leading in this area. A better Arizona relies on strong citizen involvement to move us forward. If this stuff is interesting to you, join me in trying to figure out ways to make Arizona better.

Creating The Arizona We Want

I was recently named a Tech Titan by the Phoenix Business Journal. I was asked to speak on a panel with Jeff Pruitt, Craig Barrett, Wendy Jameson moderated by Patrick O’ Grady at the formal event unveiling the Titans. Here are some of the questions that came up.

The Arizona We Want

What are the biggest challenges facing the technology sector in Arizona?

Lack of talent. We think we have a lot of entrepreneurs, but that isn’t the same as the workforce needed to execute. Scaling a company to thousands of people in a year or two is an enormous task if you have to train every employee from the ground up. As our market heats up the lack of talent will only increase and so will the pain.

Lack of density. We are too sparse. People are not connected enough to allow for maximum serendipity. We have to start thinking of ourselves as a region with cores in various cities. No one wants to hear this, but it is a reality. The other option is embracing this and figuring out a way to make it an advantage.

Lack of culture\tolerance. We don’t have the essence of placemaking at our core. People love the weather and the outdoor activities, but we aren’t creating the attachment to physical place. Music and Art are poorly supported. Tolerance for view points outside those made famous by our politicians is limited in most areas.

Lack of leadership. We are a young state. We lack quality leadership in nearly every way civic, education and business. Those with experience aren’t connected to Arizona. Accelerating young leaders needs to be a top priority.

How are small technology companies being pushed to succeed in the state, and what more needs to be done to develop more technology companies.

I believe at this point we have more incubators, collaborative spaces and angel groups than we do actual entrepreneurs. Excuses shouldn’t be accepted anymore. What is missing?

Experience. We lack “smart” money. We don’t have the “pay pal mafia” or “Tony Hsieh’s” that have been there and done it in the new economy to invest in the next wave.

Cohesiveness. Arizona is fiercely independent. Every cowboy wants to own the gold mine. I think this is a by product of our land development mindset. Everything is fear and scarcity based. Instead of trust and abundance based. Arizona needs to learn to work together.

Workforce Development. The need for a digital blue collar exists. Think of operations at Paypal, Go Daddy and Yelp. They require technical literacy but not advanced technical knowledge for a lot of their positions. We need to have programs in place to transition people through the entire chain of technical opportunity.

Education. We need to be fast tracking technology the same way we do healthcare professions. High school students should be graduating with enough skills to be workforce ready or primed to fast track through university. Arizona could lead in this category. Hello EVIT and WESTMEC.

What are the biggest opportunities available for Arizona technology companies?

Climate. Creatives like to get out and explore. Arizona is primed for outdoor activity 300 days out of the year and is a great base camp to explore the entire Southwest. We can not under estimate this asset. We need to stop gutting our state park system and instead INVEST heavily in our open spaces.

Young. Arizona may be 100 years old but it didn’t really start attracting people until the 60’s when air conditioning became mainstream. We are a mere adolescent compared to other states. This means the business leaders of today will define the future of Arizona. It will be difficult work, but will offer significant rewards to those willing to pioneer.

Affordable. The cost of living here and doing business here is just hard to beat. We need to leverage it while we still have it.

Family. Despite what the overall numbers say, most of the suburbs have fantastic school systems. Neighborhoods are safe. We are well positioned for raising families. We should recognize and embrace that.

Cities such as Boston and Austin have been successful in developing an ecosystem for technology companies, both in terms of developing them and recruiting them. What can those cities and others show Phoenix about developing its own ecosystem?

Culture. Culture. Culture. Boston was at the center of the creation of this country. Austin has made a point to be weird. They are willing to be unique and embrace their DNA. We should be willing to do the same.

Tolerance. Tolerance. Tolerance. To be blunt we are the laughing stock of the world in this department. We need to stop judging, oppressing and silencing those that aren’t like us. Ideas and execution need to matter more than appearances.

Sense of place (Density). People need to be able to identify with landmarks, neighborhoods and memories. We need to engage people and make a mark on them. Transportation plays a part in this.

Define a better tomorrow. We need a deeper university system. More research, more private options. See education above.

Boston had deep pockets (Venture Capital). Austin had Dell and University of Texas. Portland, Seattle, Boulder and Las Vegas are all rising. We need to use our unique attributes to differentiate ourselves.

What do you see as the role of groups such as the ACA, GPEC and cities in developing technology companies?

Arizona Commerce Authority (ACA). They need to be influencing legislation. Help implement everything listed above.

Greater Phoenix Economic Council (GPEC). They need to continue recruiting and doing site location. They need to be fostering/amplifying what is already happen. They need to drive density cluster activity without picking winners/losers.

Cities. They need to provide the infrastructure for success. They need to emphasis place making and strengthen their downtown cores. They need to build talent hubs and provide migratory growth patterns for high growth companies.

How do you bring together the different sectors of technology, from software and hardware to everything from aerospace, renewables and green, together to speak with a unified voice to further the future of technology in the state?

Technology is technology. Stop trying to specialize. Load up with smart people. Create the right envirnoment and get the hell out of the way.

Talent. Everyone needs it. Focus on that. Unify on making sure that a pipeline of quality talent is here for years to come.

ACA has outlined a strategy that focuses on aerospace, entrepreneurs and renewables in its approach. Are there other legs to the stool that need exploring?

Stop picking winners. Let the market decide. Help existing clusters.

Richard Florida says it well. Technology. Talent. Tolerance. The three T’s. ACA get on that. Help stop stupid policy and encourage good policy.

I am ready to make Arizona better. Are you? What are your opinions? What is the Arizona We Want?

Arizona Art Project – Influx AZ Comes to Chandler Arizona.

IN FLUX a innovative multi-city initiative.  It demonstrates a holistic approach to temporary public art projects.  Influx showcases installations created by local Arizona artists.  They are preparing for their third cycle.

Local Arizona Art

This cycle has three Arizona artists displaying working in Chandler, AZ. Textile artist Ann Morton, sculptor Craig Randich and mixed-media artist Denise Yaghmourian will be displaying their work.  This temporary display is intended to help show case Arizona Art.  There is plenty of FREE covered parking in Downtown Chandler.  Additionally, the installations are all located the Valley Metro Bus Rapid Transit line for those looking to leave the car at home.  Come make an afternoon of it by walking the path and visiting the Vision Art Gallery.  Stay and grab a meal at one of the fine eateries before heading back out.

We are excited that Gangplank will be the host to one of the installations. Here are the locations and a proposed walking trail.  Installations should be ready to display in the next two weeks.

In Flux Arizona Art

In Flux Arizona Art

Review AZ Today iPad Magazine

The Arizona Republic recently released a new iPad magazine called “AZ Today“.  [download] They requested feedback on Twitter.  After spending some time reading it here is my review.

“Drop the non-local content.  Add more of the great quality images.  Connect with social networks more.”

Cover Grade:  C 

The cover just lacks something.  It doesn’t seem to come together.  It feels more like a high quality image with some text thrown on top.

Contents Grade: C

The contents section is so bland. Seemingly uninspired and inconsistent in type and feel.

Gallery: Grade B

The whole notion of world news being stuffed in a magazine called AZ Today is the kind of thing that always amazes about the AZ Republic.  Trying so hard, yet failing so spectacularly.  It starts well with some local bits.

Then it moves to completely uninspired and out of place national and world news.

At this point, I am ready to give up.  Another miserable failure from my beloved local rag, but then I give in and decide, just one more swipe.  Finally, there is delivery.  Photos from around the state.  It’s Arizona highways super charged.  Drool.  #whyaz

I am in love.  This should have been your minimum viable product.  I want this section delivered me to every damn day.  However, you failed by not allowing me to share these on Facebook or Tweet them to my followers.

Captivate Grade : B

This section starts strong with a nicely laid out piece from the cover on the death of Arizona’s only Jaguar.  Then it has a stunning story on highlining with great photography.  So well done.  Is this the AZ Republic?

This leads right into a piece with a powerful opening image and teaser, but degrades after the swipe to mediocrity.

The Behind the Lens included a nice video and some sharp photography.  The layout left something to be desired, but I applaud the full use of the device.

Then it all falls a part and the wheels come off the wagon.  It starts with world images (sorry there are 50 apps in iTunes that do this better), followed by two weak stories reaching to be world news and the intro into the crap called azcentralsports.

AZ Central Sports Grade : F

The intro slide (not included) was so lackluster that I was embarrassed to show it for them.  It then jumped right into the local sports scene.  The problem is it was Dan Bickley’s three trending tops.  They sucked and some weren’t local.  Don’t call it the “local” section and have an article about Roger Clemens and the Hall of Fame.

Top Tweets?  Seriously?  You are trying too hard to act like you understand social media.  If you must put something like this in at least give us something that is more meaningful. Make this by sport and give us top tweet from every player on the team from each sport.  Make it worth my time.  Allow me to “retweet” the content I am reading at a minimum.  Engage me.


The rest of this section was just too painful to even talk about.  Maybe I am spoiled by really great examples of sports done right on mobile devices by so many others.  Go play with a few things by ESPN.

Amuse Grade : B

It was clever to add a peek into inspiring valley homes, but you didn’t use the functionality of the device enough here.  Give us some video, let us use accelerometers to view 3D views of the rooms.  Give us something more than quality photography.

The Sweet Treats was done well.  Allow us to enter the contest directly, it’s interactive you know.  You saved yourself with quality navigation and presentation on recipes (not shown).

The image viewer in this section was done right.  Zoo Lights fantastic.  More of this please.

The Then and Now was clever.  This is using the device at it’s fullest.  Showing the historic photo and then allowing me to wipe away to reveal the new photo underneath.  I look forward to additional content in this area.  I could see an entire app on AZ History using this technique in places.  Reminds me of the book by Allen Dutton.

Overall Grade: B –

Get rid of the non-local content.  Allow me to interact by sharing with my social networks.  Make the sports section not suck.  You are close to having something worth talking about here.  I am sure others will be much harsher critics, but as someone dying for quality local news I am encouraged that you are making the effort.

Political Bites : Who is the Most Influential Figure of the Southeast Valley

Who is the most significant person in the history of the Southeast Valley and why?

Also, let’s define our terms, Southeast Valley is Tempe, Mesa, Chandler and Gilbert, extending south to the Gila River reservation, southeast to Queen Creek, east to Apache Junction and the Superstition Mountains. So it can’t be Barry Goldwater, etc.

Dr. AJ Chandler.  Chandler a veterinarian by trade, was a pioneer in the science of irrigation engineering and was instrumental in building the early canal system in the East Valley.  His forward thinking (and some mandates by SRP) pushed him to create the vibrant City of Chandler that still stands today including a central park, golf course and the San Marcos Hotel.  His entrepreneurial spirit and creativity is still present in the culture of Chandler today.

Checkout Mt. Rushmore of the Southeast Valley.

Political Bites : Biggest Upset for AZ State or Local Elections?

What was your biggest surprise in state or local elections?

Proposition 204 not getting approved was a bit of a surprise.  I expected the fact that it was a permanent tax increase to affect many voters.  However, in the recent past Arizonian’s have strongly come out in support of education.  Krysten Sinema’s strong victory over Vernon Parker in District 9 was also not expected.  It was sure to be a close race, but Krysten readily took the seat even though nearly 7% of the votes were given to Powell Gammill a relatively unknown Libertarian.

Political Bites : Does Arizona Spend Too Much on Prisons?

Does Arizona spend too much, too little or about the right amount of money on prisons, and why?

Arizona is definitely spending too much on prisons.  In 2010, we were spending almost $1 billion or 11% of general fund on corrections.  Arizona’s prison growth rate has outpaced every other state in the Nation finding 1 out of every 170 Arizona’s in prison.  It is time we start diverting more nonviolent, low-risk offenders to home arrest, probation or other more inexpensive forms of punishment/rehabilitation.

Political Bites: Housing Prices Up, Good For Economy?

Housing prices are up, but supply is low. Is that good or bad for the economy?

At this point housing prices are the least of our economic problems. The looming student loan bubble, currently nearing a trillion dollars and up by $663 billion since 2003, is a far bigger threat to our economic stability. Compound this with the horrible job market that graduates are leaving school to enter and it is cause for concern. If we thought the housing bubble hurt, wait until this sucker pops.