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5 simple tips for Albany from Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak

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Communities all over the world are vying to become "the next Silicon Valley" and New York's Capital District is no exception.

The local Chamber of Commerce came up with the nickname Tech Valley over a decade ago and it's finally starting to catch on. But despite the growth of technology companies, the area around Albany is still a far cry from that other, more famous valley in California.

So what is next for Tech Valley? And how can it grow?

That was the topic of a panel discussion on Thursday afternoon hosted by the computer chip manufacturer, GlobalFoundries. The guest of honor was technology pioneer, and co-founder of Apple, Steve Wozniak.

Here's some of his advice:

1. Technology companies feed off of great schools

“We always say in Silicon Valley that all the technology companies feed off of great schools, like Stanford and Berkeley- great engineering schools. So all the schools in this area, RPI and RIT and so many that are just so outstanding, that is the element you’ve got to grow from.”

2. Good community planning is key

“Companies or cities can start to think very carefully about what kind of environment you want for people to live in … When I developed the Apple computers, I lived in a little apartment in Cupertino. I’d come home from work where I designed calculators for Hewlett Packard and it was a five minute drive. I’d have a TV dinner, watch Star Trek, and then I’d drive back to work … So it was really nice living close to where you work. Good communities, nearby, well thought-out, would impress me.”

3. Attract the right people and let them be creative

“Don’t slip up. It’s worth any amount of consideration, concern, [and] money to get the really good [employees] in when you can spot them, and they’ll attract other good ones … [Silicon valley has] a huge critical mass, and it really should be encouraged here. One of the things I think that companies should do is make available some of the resources for people to use for their own projects, even at home. With personal projects, you’re going to work so hard to make them so perfect that your mind is going to develop techniques that will apply to your job in the industry.”

4. Venture capitalists are critical

“At one point, the VCs in Silicon Valley were investing all over the country and the world, and they actually got tired of being on six boards and having to fly out to board meetings all the time. So sometimes they would say to a start a company, ‘You just gotta start it in Silicon Valley or we’re not going to invest in you.’ So that is sort of a problem. If there was a local VC community, it would be a lot better, and of course it would be made up of wealthy people that are in this area.”

5. Expect to take risks and fail

“I think that you really learn the most, even in elementary school, from failure. When you get told that was wrong … you learn it better. I’ve always been a strong believer in leading students toward failure to learn better what the right way is. The problem is you get large companies that grow. When you have a lot of people that are just afraid to have anything to ever go wrong to their boss or to the board of directors, then you get very stale companies that aren’t flexible and can’t move very much.”

WMHT/Capital Region reporter for the Innovation Trail.
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