The BETA Awards

Infotech Niagara, a loose affiliation of IT, software, communications and technology companies in Western New York, held its annual Buffalo/Niagara Emerging Technology Awards (BETAs) on March 21st. There were 11 awards given out in various categories consisting of 5 nominees each. Several companies were nominated for more than one category.

In recent years the audience has been largely entertained by a well-produced thematic video from Full Circle Studios. This year’s was entitled “Sorry, McKinley” and had something to do with commercial advertising. While some skits were classic – the takeoff on the PC/Macintosh commercials (“Hi, I’m Buffalo; Hi, I’m Cleveland”; “Hi, I’m Buffalo, Hi, I’m Miami”) was especially good and deserves exposure on You Tube – there were some that were a bit beyond edgy. The squeamish were gagging in their seats when the “What If” skit changed history by inventing Buffalo Scrotum Stretchers instead of Buffalo Chicken Wings. And yes, it is still too soon to try to find comedy in the McKinley assassination.

The awards themselves were interesting on a number of fronts:

  • Several of the high-tech companies that received awards tanked a year or two later. High-tech is a risky business that requires hard work and rapid evolution lest it obsolete itself in a very short period. Several of the companies that received awards this decade no longer exist; others are vastly different than what they were then.
  • Each year several of the high-tech companies are finalists in more than one category. Some companies have also won more than once, which indicates either a superb corporate culture or a dearth of high-tech businesses in Western New York. I can’t easily judge businesses – other than my own – on their corporate culture, but I can easily argue that there is a dearth of high-tech companies in Western New York.

Buffalo was a blue-collar town, and it’s still a blue-collar town with only a few islands of high-tech here and there. Even with a gigantic university system and graduating students dying to stay in the area, it does not advance (nearly as well as other regions of the country) in entrepreneurialism, high-tech, or retention of college graduates. We are unfortunately a net exporter of young talent. Our biggest growth industry in 2005 was the public sector. Today even that sector suffers because of budget restrictions imposed by the Buffalo and Erie County Control Boards.

Yet I’m ever hopeful that we can turn this around. I’m involved in a number of organizations trying to do just that, and there are numerous success stories out there.

However, barring an impossible philosophical turnaround by the New York State Legislature, a really good drought in the Western half of the country might be needed to do the trick. Water is the one thing we’ve got a lot of, and no combination of engineering or money will be able to move it west.

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