Silicon Desert Insider: It’s time for Arizona startups to grow up

It is hard. You invest your time and heart into getting those young ones ready for the world. You want to encourage them, protect them, give them as much opportunity as possible. All we want is for them to succeed and contribute to the community. One of the hardest parts of rearing them is that at some point you have to stand back and let them become adults. I’m talking about the Arizona technology startup community. It is time to grow up.

Taking a look back at what has happened over the past ten years or so you can see people from government, non-profits, academia and industry come together to create what is truly a community. Startups no longer need to develop in isolation. We have incubators, classes, mentors, angels and programs to help them figure out what they want to do and do it. There are groups and networking events where people get to know each other. And there is money for good ideas, in the form of grants and seed investments. Yet we don’t see the rapid success that so much momentum should bring.

That’s because our community is still in building and nurturing mode. We focus on getting ready for success instead of achieving success. And we support far too many startups that are just not going to make it. As a community we need to realize it’s time to be more mature and take steps to get ourselves to the next level.

The first thing we need to do is stop complaining and get that chip off our shoulder. If one more self-described entrepreneur complains that “there is no money in Arizona” or “investors here are too tight with their money,” I’m going to throw my due diligence notebook at their head. We are not like some places where there is so much tech wealth that they spread money freely. That just means those other places make more stupid investments along with good ones. Good ideas with good management get funded. They have to work for that funding, but that’s part of being an adult.

Another big step we need to take is that local startups should simply ask for more money. We have recently seen several great opportunities go around and ask for one or two million dollars while their competitors are raising 10 or 15. When we were building things up it made sense to go slow. The infrastructure was not there to go fast. But now it is time to go big, or go home.

Lastly, and more importantly, it’s time for startups to grow up and expect more from themselves. They need to push their teams harder and raise expectations. This is not about pitch competitions, having a foosball table in the middle of the office, or being able to bring your dog to work. This is about getting smart people together on a team and working to exhaustion to achieve something that is really hard. Our startup companies need to grow faster and aim higher.

It all comes down to having the maturity for the community to start dishing out some tough love. To say no and to point out weaknesses sooner. Encouragement is fine but not when it distracts from focus on concepts that have a chance for big growth. We have come a long way and success is happening, now we just need our startup community to grow up and make our mark as a not just a place for innovation, but a place where innovation succeeds.

Silicon Desert Insider is a weekly blog published every Wednesday morning on, about the local technology industry. If you have an idea for a piece for “Silicon Desert Insider,” please email AZ BIG Media Digital Editor Jesse A. Millard at