A number of events I’ve attended recently have caused me to re-think much of my frustration about how slowly Phoenix changes. As you know, I’m the type of person who thinks everything should happen immediately, and it drives me nuts to see how long it’s been since Ed and I started working together to try to grow the tech entrepreneur ecosystem in the town we’ve adopted as home. It has been fourteen years since we started Stealthmode Partners.
But once recently I’ve called out the number of new accelerators, incubators, and training programs for entrepreneurs that have gotten under way in the past two years. I remember when we were the only ones –and we were the only ones for a full decade — but now there are almost too many resources to catalogue. Now I’ll go further:
1)I attended the first AZIMA awards last month, at the Phoenix Art Museum. I remember when I moved to Phoenix from New York and derided our art museum — it was small, old, dingy, and didn’t have any “real” art. But when I went downtown for AZIMA, I realized the entire museum had not only been remodeled (I already had seen that), but there was an almost mind-boggling installation of black butterflies all through the lobby. What a welcome! And when I went to the second floor, I saw an amazing exhibition of digitally printed clothes by famous fashion designers using one of a kind printed fabrics. I was impressed, and that was before the awards presentation even started.
2) Last week I served as an evaluator (I don’t say judge) once again for the Arizona Innovation Challenge. I read 22 proposals, and was again amazed by the breadth and depth of talent in the community about which I didn’t know. There’s nothing like a competition for cash to bring out the hidden gems that I have never met at incubators or events, even though I think I’m familiar with the local startups. Each year, this Challenge teaches me again that I am not. I don’t even scratch the surface of knowing what’s out there– which is a good thing.
3)And last night the coup de grace to my often scornful attitude was delivered by the Phoenix FIlm Festival. I hadn’t been there in years, and when last I went it was small. Not anymore. Like the art museum, it has grown both in quantity and quality. We saw a film written, produced and directed by a graduate of Camelback High School, Elise Salomon. Her film, Los Wild Ones, premiered at SXSW, although I didn’t see it there. It’s a documentary about a unique L.A. record label, Wild Records, that features young Mexican musicians who love and preserve the Rockabilly culture of the 50s — the one that brought us Elvis Presley. The label is owned by Reb Kennedy, an Irish immigrant, and although it’s the story of the Mexican musicians, it is also the story of an entrepreneur having trouble letting go of enough control to let his baby soar.
Indeed, there are many good films screened at this year’s festival, and I intend to go back there,
All these events add up to a lesson: before you complain that “there’s nothing happening in Phoenix,” and “it’s not a place the creative class wants to live,” go out and do some of the things you don’t think are happening.