September 07, 2012

Apple co-founder Wozniak impressed with Tech Valley

By: Richard A. D'Errico

Source: The Business Review

Tech Valley has a couple more ambassadors. Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple, said after spending a couple of days in the Tech Valley region—Albany, Rensselaer and Saratoga counties—that he’ll pitch the region to those he meets globally.

After his visit here, Woniak said now he knows "something really big is happening in Tech Valley."

Peter Schultz, the co-inventor of fiber optics, was equally impressed with a region he said he used to just drive through form his home on Lake Champlain.

They made their comments during a panel discussion at GlobalFoundries, the $6.9 billion chip plant under construction in Malta, Saratoga County. The topic of the panel discussion, which was moderated by The Business Review’s publisher, Carolyn Jones, was on “The Future of Tech Valley.”

“My impression of Albany was driving through it” on the way to Massachusetts or Connecticut,” Schultz told the crowd of 600. “My impression was abandoned textile mills, buildings abandoned, lots of bridges. In the last two days, I have just been amazed.”

Schultz and Wozniak toured the $14 billion College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering on Wednesday. On Thursday, they visited Tech Valley High School at the University at Albany’s East Campus in Rensselaer and ended the day at GlobalFoundries.

“I am truly amazed,” Schultz said of CNSE. “This is something that is going to turn around the economy in this region. No question.”

Wozniak said Silicon Valley’s tech sector was created because of the great schools nearby. CNSE and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute can play a similar role in Tech Valley.

Key to Apple's creation was the fact that Wozniak lived five minutes from his job at Hewlett-Packard. After his work day, he'd head to his Cupertino, Calif., apartment, eat a TV dinner and watch Star Trek and drive back to work to tinker on what would become Apple Computers.

"It's nice living close to work," he said.

Panelist John Cavalier, former CEO at MapInfo and before that, Wozniak’s boss at Apple, spoke as a former Silicon Valley resident-turned Tech Valley ambassador. He lived in Silicon Valley for 15 years.

He spoke of the collegiality and spirit he saw in Silicon Valley.

“I’m starting to see the same thing here,” Cavalier said.

Wozniak said employers need to hire the best employees, which will attract even more quality employees.

“Don’t slip up,” he said. “It’s worth any amount of consideration and concern or money to get them.” He also urged employers to allow their employees to work on pet projects on the site to create an entrepreneurial culture of invention.

Cavalier said the region also needs to attract venture capital firms to set up offices in the area to move Tech Valley to the next level.

Panelist Daniel Pickett III, CEO of nfrastructure, said venture capitalists are looking at the region. He noted that representatives from Goldman Sachs would be at nfrastructure's 20th anniversary celebration Thursday night. He said his company has had to learn to adapt and be flexible to a changing environment.

nfrastructure is a $35 million company that installs and manages data centers and designs computer networks for companies GlobalFoundries, Google and adidas.

Pickett said he has benefited from a diverse group of mentors, “from people who have done it.”

Wozniak said the region also needs to allow people to take risks and fail.

"In school you learn from failure," he said. But large companies often avoid taking risk because their leadership fears failure.

Schultz said people in the Tech Valley region should be proud of their accomplishments, but it’s too soon to quit. All the key players, including government, need to continue investing in the region’s tech sector.

“I can sense people are starting to pat themselves on the back,” he said. “This is just the beginning. It’s not time to pat yourselves on the back.”