Not too many people can say they have award-winning friends. I can.
That crossed my mind during my hosting duties at the recent Governor’s Celebration of Innovation (GCOI), the Arizona Technology Council’s annual evening dedicated to recognizing those people who have excelled in the state’s technology community and supported its agenda. A core feature is the awards ceremony to honor achievements during the year.
Now, before you think we freely hand out the Stevies to those closest to me, you should know that I have nothing to do with selecting the winners. An independent panel decides who among the nominees is deserving of the awards. I get the good part of the deal: offering congratulations while handing out prizes.
It really is a coincidence that people I meet in my regular role also are recognized by others as leaders in their field. But no one could be prouder than me when they get their moments in the spotlight.
One of the most moving parts of the program for me was presentation of the AccountabilIT Lifetime Achievement Award to Jim Wyant, founder of companies that include measurement tool maker 4D Technology. But it was his contributions to The University of Arizona and being the founding dean of its College of Optical Sciences that made me a fan. Besides being instrumental in shaping the school to become home of the world’s No. 1 optical sciences program, he used his entrepreneurial success to donate more than $30 million to support the faculty and students. I’ve known him for about a decade and was honored to be a speaker in April when the school was renamed the James C. Wyant College of Optical Sciences. That, too, was a pretty special moment in my life.
Another person I’ve grown close to is Fletcher McCusker, who was recognized as winner of the Ed Denison Business Leader of the Year Award. We both serve in advisory roles for Tucson’s Sun Corridor Inc.—he in the Chairman’s Circle and I on the board of directors. We both share interest in the city’s economy, specifically the technology-based companies. McCusker’s latest accomplishment is as CEO and co-founder of UAVenture Capital Fund, an investment fund designed to help finance UArizona-connected enterprises that include commercialization of faculty-led innovation. My duties at GCOI often put me behind the winners as they speak, so I don’t always hear what they are saying but I certainly could hear the audience laughing at certain points in McCusker’s acceptance speech, so I know he was a hit.
Some people have been on the GCOI stage again and again. I’m talking about members of our Legislature who are recognized. Many have become my close friends over the years as we work together on a number of policy initiatives, so I’m glad to see them get the acknowledgement they deserve. Another Capitol insider making repeat appearances is Gov. Doug Ducey. It’s his celebration after all! While I did get a little one-on-one time with him, we’re especially glad when his schedule allows him to join us for the evening because he does a fine job of describing why the tech industry is so important to Arizona’s economy and how he’s a fan of innovators who are making their marks in our state.
GCOI also gives me the opportunity to keep increasing the size of my circle. That happens as I make my rounds in the Tech Expo, where companies working at the leading edge of their sector showcase their latest cool ideas. Then there are the students recognized as Future Innovators along with their teachers. The kids … excuse me, these innovators always steal the show when the video showcasing them and their projects leaves the audience amazed at the accomplishments of people at their age. They all are the types of people that I want to know and meet the rest of my life!
As you may guess, my favorite part of GCOI is introducing the award winners since we are celebrating the innovators who are making a difference, as well as having an enormous impact on our economy and quality of life. It doesn’t matter whether they come from small companies, large organizations or academe. Speaking of which, other winners with ties to UArizona were researcher Louise Hecker, winner of the Benchmark Academia Award, and university spinoff FreeFall Aerospace, winner of the Innovator of the Year – Start-Up Company.
To my friends at Arizona State University, U.S. News and World Report’s Most Innovative School in America for five years running: I didn’t see your name among this year’s nominees. How about taking the cross-state rivalry to our field next year?