Phoenix may be a desert, but not for tech businesses, makers, or shakers

“All we have is—what? GoDaddy and Discount Tire. And only one of those is a tech business.”

I hadn’t been trying to eavesdrop. Normally, when I get to Lux (my favorite Phoenix café), I’m in a hurry to throw on my headphones, turn on a TED Talk, and get to work. But I’d still been waiting for my coffee when the man sitting across from me spewed this utter nonsense, so I’d heard it whether I’d wanted to or not—and, being the annoying Phoenix advocate that I am, I had to butt in.

I told the man at my table that I’d heard the same thing a few times before, but normally from out-of-towners who don’t quite know what Phoenix is all about. It’s a common misconception that Phoenix is more of a layover city than anything else; that even after we start and grow our businesses, we’ll never be considered a true “hub” for anything. Worse, some seem to think that we Phoenicians are trying to be something we’re not.

Of course, I didn’t tell him all of this. In the moment, it was hard to organize my thoughts for a guy who was clearly surprised I’d interjected, but pleased to hear me out—so I just started listing off Phoenix tech companies I’d heard of, worked with, and come to love: GraphLock, ClearVoice, NeoLight, Insight, LifeLock, WebPT, and so on, until I’d nearly run out of breath. And how could he have forgotten Infusionsoft?

The gentleman across from me had heard some of the names I’d rattled off, but hadn’t heard others. He wanted to know what they all did, whether they were started by regular people like us or by incredibly wealthy, seasoned entrepreneurs who saw Phoenix as an opportunity to make money. I was proud to say that most of the entrepreneurs I’d known had bootstrapped their businesses before finding investors with the help of a mentor—all “grassroots,” local efforts. The few large companies that had built offices in Phoenix were ones we already knew about and enjoyed: Uber, Yelp, DoubleDutch. Soon the man’s friend was involved, and we were having a full-fledged conversation about the local tech climate while my iced mocha watered itself down on the Lux counter, forgotten.

I love talking about Phoenix’s startup culture. The benefits are twofold: One, I get to brag about all of the amazing companies I’ve worked with, read about, walked past at Galvanize, or seen at PHX Startup Week. Two, I get to look back and giggle at all the times my friends and family couldn’t understand why I’d ever move from California to Arizona. To them, Phoenix was a desert, both literally and figuratively. To me, it was a place I could breathe easier and a land of opportunity. I think I won that one.

Phoenix has proven itself to be what one makes of it. There are people who genuinely believe there’s nothing to do here, but it’s because they don’t bother to check out Arizona’s diverse histories and cultures, networks, museums, restaurants, community events, and opportunities to connect with nature. There are also people who love Phoenix, go out of their way to find or create fun and good fortune, and almost have too many things to do as a result. I feel incredibly lucky to have associated with the latter through my adventures in the Phoenix tech and entrepreneurial communities.

We may have dry spells and 115 degree days, but Phoenix isn’t just a desert anymore. Rather, it’s a proven place for inspired and intelligent people to break ground on their ideas. It’s a place to network with people who share your goals but have diverse backgrounds. You get to leave your footprint here while reaping the benefits a large city has to offer.

And to me, that’s magic.

Image from Hotel Palomar.

Adrianna Nine

Author: Adrianna Nine

Adrianna is a journalist, fiction writer, and criminal justice student at ASU in bustling downtown Phoenix. When she isn’t tapping away at her keyboard or reading up on bad guys, Adrianna can be found soaking in the Arizona sun and testing out the coolest coffee shops in town.

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