Until now, Silicon Valley has been the pipe dream shared by techies and entrepreneurs alike. It was the ideal destination for hopeful business owners—especially those involved in technology. Inventors, computer scientists, and programmers flocked there in numbers, despite the high cost of living and the relatively elitist attitude that flourishes in the southern San Francisco Bay. Tech culture has grown so much in Silicon Valley that the city boasts a Computer History Museum, as well as a number of initiatives to get kids involved in computer science at a young age. For years this city held the technological and entrepreneurial spotlights . . . but not anymore.
Enter Phoenix. The sixth largest city in America is quickly grabbing attention from business owners and computer geniuses across the country, and for good reason. In 2014, Phoenix was ranked “seventeenth among top twenty US cities for tech startups” by CBS News. It was also named “one of the top five best states for small business” by the National Federation for Independent Business. If that isn’t proof enough of our entrepreneurial and tech prowess, just take Phoenix’s 58.1 percent technology job growth rate into consideration. When it comes to business and innovation, we’re booming.
If you live in Phoenix (or anywhere around it), you may have noticed the rise in local tech startups over the past few years. There are businesses specializing in medical, educational, and financial technology, software and mobile app programming, 3D printing, virtual reality, and much, much more. With each of those startups comes a slew of local talent, some from our outstanding universities. “It’s an explosion of ambitious entrepreneurial energy every day in Phoenix,” says Greg Head, former Chief Marketing Officer at Infusionsoft and past employee at ACT! and SalesLogix. “I see ten times more activity in startups and fast-growth software companies in Phoenix than there was just five years ago.”
Since last year’s Phoenix Startup Week, the event’s size and attendance has doubled. Coworking spaces, which offer a professional yet collaborative community workspace for members, are popular throughout the Valley. Business incubators are quickly becoming a common part of our desert landscape. We even teach our kids the mechanics of small business through the JAA Young Ambassador Program, annual Arizona Children’s Business Fair, and the CO+HOOTS Foundation’s Youth Startup Weekend, which became the nation’s biggest youth startup weekend this year.
There are quite a few obvious similarities between Silicon Valley and Phoenix—some have even taken to calling Phoenix the “Silicon Desert.” But does that mean we’re just a copy of the southern San Francisco Bay? Absolutely not. “We’re not copycats,” says Jonathan Cottrell, founder and CEO of Hopscratch. “We’re built on other things and should lead with our differences. We’re Phoenix. Let’s be Phoenix.”
As far as differences go, we have plenty. JT Marino and Daehee Park, the founders of Tuft & Needle, note a better sense of community and mutual communication in the Valley than anywhere else. “[Businesses] can make a phone call and land meetings [with] politicians, city leaders, other business figures, investors, or even the mayor. People want Phoenix-based businesses to succeed, and they aren’t inundated with countless other people vying for their time.” In an online essay, JT and Daehee cite overall pricing (gas, food, housing, and office space) as well as weather, accessibility, and diversity as some of the reasons they established their business in Phoenix.
Startups aren’t the only entities contributing to Valley tech. Plenty of large-scale businesses are itching to establish a presence in Phoenix and take advantage of the local talent. Uber, Carvana, Galvanize, and Yelp are just a few of the companies who have built offices in the Valley.
“Scottsdale and Phoenix hold an incredibly talented workforce,” says Heyward McAlpin, VP of local sales and head of Yelp’s Phoenix office. “With ASU and UA right around the corner, we were confident we could find great talent here. The office’s proximity to our San Francisco headquarters also allows for company leaders to spend time in the office.” McAlpin views the Scottsdale-Phoenix area as the perfect space for his employees, too. “Scottsdale’s vibrant, energetic, and urban style living is perfect for our employees. There is so much to do with the community, the outdoors, entertainment, a vibrant dining scene, and more. Plus, the affordability of housing in the area allows for many of our employees to own homes. Lots of employees live nearby and are able to walk or bike to work.”
Phoenix’s entrepreneurial landscape is improving quickly through programs like ASU’s School of Entrepreneurship and Innovation, which hosts student accelerators and an annual “Spark Tank.” ASU’s W.P. Carey School of Business is quickly becoming one of the largest business schools in the nation. The Center for Entrepreneurial Innovation at Gateway Community College helps locals network, collaborate, and learn on an as-needed basis. Even startup studios and incubators like Coplex and SeedSpot have helped aspiring business owners start tech companies in our ever-expanding environment.
Despite our prickly desert scenery and our seemingly endless summers, Phoenix has become a hot spot for technology, business, and combinations of the two. Our incredible resources and can-do attitude make Phoenix all the more perfect to work in and love.