Frannie Matthews has had her head in the tech sector since Apple was just a snack and the hottest computer was named Commodore.
Her 35 years in the game has taught the current president and CEO of the Colorado Technology Association that change can be as good as it is inevitable.
Her job talent, she figures, is spotting trends and connections that can single out opportunities and anticipate risk.
Matthews spent 18 years with IBM, leading the five-state Rocky Mountain Business Unit, and now works in public policy, economic development and talent growth. She's prioritized diversity and inclusion in the organization's strategic initiatives.
The Colorado Women's Chamber named her as one the Most Powerful Women in Business in 2020. She also received a lifetime achievement award for women in business from the Denver Business Journal last year.
Former Gov. John Hickenlooper appointed her to the Colorado Workforce Development Council. She also is an active member of the Colorado Business Roundtable’s Inner Circle.
An advocate for S.T.E.M. education, Matthews has taught high school Junior Achievement courses and works with University of Colorado students through the Leeds School of Business professional mentoring program and professional selling course, as well as mentoring high school students in IBM's PTECH program at Skyline High School.
Colorado Politics: Who are the people who join the Colorado Technology Association, and why?
Matthews: Tech is ubiquitous. Most organizations are digitally centric in their solutions and operations. As a result, we have members from various industries and sizes.
Our members join because we provide a way for the community to share ideas, build relationships, and do business. Coloradans are known for their collaborative nature. We give them the ecosystem to help them come together as a community. Engagement in CTA results in successful business relationships.
We are focused on being a voice for Colorado tech when it comes to policy at the state and federal levels. We need smart legislation that promotes innovation. Many companies are leaving geographies that have become inhospitable due to burdensome regulation and high taxes. We want those businesses coming here. Tech brings well-paying jobs with future growth.
One of the gating factors for tech industry growth is the talent shortage. We work to attract more people into tech and strive to increase the diversity in the industry. Diversity breeds creativity and innovation.
CP: It seems like technology moves fast. Is the pace of change slowing or speeding up, and why is that?
Matthews: Technology is moving extremely fast, and it will only accelerate. We see the result of decades of smaller, faster, more powerful, and cheaper technology. A scientist named Gordon Moore defined this trend in 1965. Moore's Law says that every 18 months, the number of transistors on a computer chip double. The velocity of change increases even faster when emerging technologies begin to converge. We have made significant strides in artificial intelligence, robotics, virtual reality, the Internet of Things, blockchain, and the cloud. Additionally, the advances in telecommunication, specifically 5G, are great enablers for change.
CP: What drives innovation? Brainpower or capital investment?
Matthews: We need both. Great ideas go nowhere without capital. It's not just having the capital, but also the money needs to find its way to the solutions. Currently, the marketplace isn't efficient or equitable. The vast majority of venture capital and private equity is going to Silicon Valley, New York, and Boston. Additionally, very little money is going to women and minority-led organizations. Fortunately, the investment community recognizes these inequities, and hopefully, we'll begin to see some change.
I joked once that Colorado's cost per "innovation unit" is relatively inexpensive. The reason that's funny is that no one knows how to define an "innovation unit". I'm trying to say that the cost of cultivating and bringing a solution to the market in Colorado is less expensive than doing so in Silicon Valley.
CP: Can you characterize where Colorado fits into the constellation of attractive locations for tech companies?
Matthews: The key elements that make a great place for tech to thrive are the availability of talent and capital and the ease at which a company can do business.
When it comes to talent, we need a digitally capable workforce and a pipeline to grow. Access to educational opportunities is essential. Tech requires continual upskilling because technologies are ever-evolving. Fortunately, there are many ways to improve their skills and expertise, such as online learning.
In addition to growing the talent, we need to attract the talent. Fortunately, Colorado is a great place to live — lots of sunny days, year-round outdoor activities, and Denver is a fabulous city with a world-class airport. There are lots of other vital elements. Candidates moving to Colorado are assessing things like the K-12 systems, the cost of living, public safety, transportation and commute time, and the available career opportunities beyond the one they are currently considering.
We're not competing with Silicon Valley as much as we are with places like Salt Lake City, Phoenix, or Austin. In general, I think we stack up pretty well, but there's no room for complacency.
CP: What could the state do to attract more tech jobs?
Matthews: For a business to invest in Colorado, it needs to be easy, efficient, and affordable to do business here. It comes down to attracting talent and making it easy to grow within the state.
Interestingly, every metro area has a tech talent shortage. Currently, we have a lot of jobs that are going unfilled because of a lack of skills. It would be logical to think we don't need more jobs; we need more qualified people to fill them. The reality is that we need to grow both. We need more opportunities to attract talent, and we need to continue to grow the opportunity. Being intentional about that is important.
We need to support the innovation. We have a great program in Colorado with the Advanced Industries grants. Emerging tech companies can receive seed money to help kick start their companies.
CP: Is there any advantage to having a tech millionaire as governor? Online cards and flowers sound like the old days.
Matthews: I think it's crucial that we have tech-savvy government officials. Governor Polis is definitely that. I'd also say that our Attorney General, Phil Weiser, is very knowledgeable about tech. The world is moving quickly, and it's important that our elected officials understand the power of technology in solving problems. They also need to understand the complexities.
The regulatory environment in tech can be dicey. Legislation needs to allow for the anticipated advances. A significant segment of our ecosystem is the startup community. If the regulatory environment creates roadblocks for entrepreneurs and small businesses, it will harm our economy. Developing smart, responsible legislation with minimal negative unintended consequences is challenging. It requires deep understanding and a lot of open dialogs.
CP: You mentor high school kids. They grew up with pretty advanced stuff. What are they interested in, and where do they take technological innovation? What's left?
Matthews: Candidly, I often feel "left in the dust." Being born into this digital world is a considerable advantage in many ways. The speed and agility with which the next generations interact with tech is astounding.
I love to see them excel. I've worked with many students from the Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado. Many are 5-7 years into their careers and are in tech-related fields. It’s great to see them prosper.