Steven G. Zylstra

President & CEO - Arizona Technology Council




Technology and innovation have always been in my blood. At 15, I rebuilt a ‘55 Chevy racecar before I even had a driver’s license. The day I turned 18, I bought my first motorcycle and I’m still an avid motorcyclist today. My love of cars and motorcycles spurred my early career as an automotive and aerospace engineer. This path eventually led me to become passionate about helping policymakers, corporate leaders and educational institutions build an environment in which technology-based businesses could thrive. Economic prosperity is dependent on our ability as a culture to continually innovate.


Perspective on Innovation

To me, innovation means fostering a mentality of looking forward and never settling. I believe that the Phoenix technology community is an excellent representation of this mindset and it is something we have been working towards for a long time.

Creating a community that values technology and innovation has been a goal of mine since I started my career in engineering and eventually moved into managing technology associations. In 1985, I became one of the founders of the Arizona Innovation Network, which was a precursor to what is now the Arizona Technology Council. At that time, there was no central advocacy group for the technology community. There were clusters of sector groups for aerospace, optics, software and more but no central entity to guide the growth of the industry as a whole. Our goal was to merge these groups to create a singular voice for the community.

Today, the Arizona Technology Council is the driving force behind making our state one of the fastest-growing technology hubs in the nation by connecting and empowering local innovators. Almost every cluster that existed in the ‘80s and ‘90s has merged into the Council, with the most recent addition being the Optics Industry Association in 2016. The creation of a central voice for technology has allowed our organization to possess the resources to work with both the voters in our community and local politicians to support policies that are beneficial to the technology industry and Arizona’s economy.

In the past 10 years, the Council has helped create a more business-friendly environment that offers lower corporate taxes, the top research and development tax credit in the nation, and technology-friendly regulations that don’t restrict innovation and new ideas. These initiatives have spurred significant innovation and growth. Phoenix has become a hotbed of activity for three of the fastest-growing technologies in the world: Internet of Things (IoT), autonomous vehicles and FinTech. We have opened our arms to new and somewhat controversial technology companies like Uber and Airbnb. Phoenix is also home to more than 85 incubators and co-working spaces that accelerate startups and fresh ideas. The economic impact we see from these new sectors and companies would not have been possible without a unified technology community that works towards the common goal of empowering innovators.

The culture that surrounds the Arizona technology community is also one that inspires innovation. While we have grown significantly over the past five years, almost every company — from startup to enterprise-level — and leader in the state has a young and hungry mentality. The giants of our community like Intel, Honeywell, IBM, Arizona State University and more are also dedicated to helping grow the early innovators, which is a trait necessary for any successful technology community.

The reason for our dedication to growing technology is that when innovation thrives, the entire community thrives. Technology creates commerce, which leads to exports and wealth generation. This, in turn, creates high-paying jobs, which attracts talent. Eventually, more companies will leverage this talent by opening headquarters in Phoenix. The immense impact of technology on the economy is made clear when you look at the first trillion-dollar companies — Apple and Amazon — followed by analyst predictions of the next few trillion-dollar companies — Alphabet (Google), Microsoft and Facebook. In today’s economy, technology is the cornerstone to a healthy, happy and prosperous community.



Why Phoenix?

Phoenix’s low cost of living compared to other technology hubs has always been a key differentiator. We also enjoy a pro-technology government focused on increasing incentives, such as the top R&D tax credit in the nation, and reducing regulation, which has led to a growth in emerging technologies and high-paying jobs.

The Future of Innovation

To maintain our success in technology, it is crucial that we continue supporting leadership that upholds Phoenix’s culture and doesn’t restrict innovation. The receptiveness we have to disruptive technologies such as Uber and Waymo, and the development of a FinTech sandbox have been significant differentiators for Phoenix. The key to taking the next step is pursuing programs that bolster STEM participation among our youth. The next generation of our workforce is critical to our success.

Advice & Best Practices

The biggest piece of advice I can give entrepreneurs is to get involved with Phoenix’s startup community and participate as much as possible. This community is dedicated to helping entrepreneurs succeed but the only way to receive counsel from our experts is to get involved.


Other INNOVATE® Ecosystems