The technology world is built on the innovative ideas of the next generation of our workforce. Today, we look to the Millennial generation to take over for the Baby Boomers in building the technology landscape of tomorrow. To understand Arizona’s growing technology startup ecosystem, one must understand the reasoning behind the education and motivations of the Millennial generation.
Millennials have hit the ground running because unlike Baby Boomers, they are technology natives. While Baby Boomers began as immigrants to technology, Millennials have grown up fully immersed in it. They don’t buy into the concept of sitting at a cluttered desk 10 hours a day. Instead, by leveraging technology, they have the ability to add meaningful value from anywhere at any time. And despite all the negativity we hear about the U.S. education system, Millennials are the most highly educated generation in our history.
In fact, education is a key reason for the early success of Millennials in technology. Beginning in the 1990s, the American education system began to put more resources towards science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). The marriage of these fields by the National Science Foundation officially resulted in the acronym STEM, and the U.S. began a stringent education reform to include STEM initiatives.
The Millennial generation grew up with the resources to take a deeper dive into STEM. At the same time, business programs moved away from focusing on teaching the operation of large companies to paying equal attention to entrepreneurship. Arizona State University’s SkySong entrepreneurial programs — such as the Edison Student Entrepreneur initiative, Innovation Challenge, TechShop and the ASU Startup Accelerator — are great example of this in the state’s postsecondary education system. Millennials have responded by taking the idea of being their own boss to heart.
To get a good sense of the impact that the STEM and entrepreneur education initiatives have had on our state, take a look at the participation in Arizona Commerce Authority’s spring 2016 Arizona Innovation Challenge. Nearly 100 startups competed for $1.5 million in seed money, with up to $250,000 granted to each winning company. The majority of these startups were run by Millennials who developed companies with innovative ideas worthy of receiving funding.
Arizona has benefited greatly from this transition in the American business landscape. Our state has steadily become a hotbed for technology startups, followed closely by a boom in incubators and a strong small business development ecosystem.
Organizations like SEED SPOT, CO+HOOTS, the Northern Arizona Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology and the Center for Entrepreneurial Innovation are helping technology startups develop their ideas and collaborate with like-minded individuals. More importantly, the growth of Arizona’s small business ecosystem is helping startups prepare their products and companies to seek funding in the Valley.
The companies that have found success here are making a significant impact on the growth of Arizona’s economy. Phoenix-based WebPT — born by Millennial innovators Heidi and Brad Jannenga — is a great example of a homegrown startup. The young couple saw a need in the market and used their entrepreneurial and technology backgrounds to create a company that in 2016 ranked No. 1,445 on the Inc. 5000 list of America’s fastest-growing companies.
There are many examples of Millennial-run startups that have shown the ability to grow and make a significant impact on Arizona’s economy. This generation is well-equipped to take over for Baby Boomers. The number of large technology companies and the growth of the startup ecosystem have effectively positioned Arizona as a national leader in technology.
The Arizona Technology Council understands that our Millennial generation is the key to the next 40 years of technology growth in the Valley. Our mission for 2017 is to continue to support STEM initiatives, encourage investment groups to move to Arizona and bolster angel investment opportunities in the state. With these initiatives as key focal points, we will continue to support our thriving startup ecosystem and help the millennial generation take the reins of the technology sector.