The Poster Child for Dead Companies Walking?

Start-ups old and start-ups new …

For those who follow it closely, the business world, especially high tech, can offer the most interesting juxtapositions of events.

For example, this week I found myself in Los Angeles tag-teaming the keynote speech at Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's Conference on Small Business and Entrepreneurship. It was the first such gathering of this kind since President Reagan held a similar event in Washington, D.C. in 1973. The chief technology topic of that conference was the potential impact of such new products as the pocket calculator and the fax machine.

Needless to say, this gathering was long overdue and kudos to the Governator (man, is he a big dude up close!) for sponsoring the event -- and we can only hope that we see a similar event in Washington someday soon.

The heart of our speech was the fact that, despite our current economic troubles -- and the even darker clouds on the horizon -- waiting just beyond is likely to be the greatest economic opportunity, and boom, that any of us has ever known.

Why? Because of a unique intersection of forces: two billion new consumers (the biggest single jump in market size in human history), global broadband interconnection that will reach every corner of the planet, and the continuing impact of Moore's Law -- the idea that tech power will double every couple of years -- which will put supercomputer power into our hands.

As you might imagine, this kind of good news got a very positive response from the crowd, which, like the rest of us, is feeling depressed these days about the economy, jobs and retirement savings. In the face of all of that, it was nice to bring an upbeat message to downbeat listeners.

Implicit in our message -- as it was in the luncheon addresses by the governor and by Carl Schramm of the Kauffman Foundation (which is also behind the current Global Entrepreneurship Week), and by almost all of the presenters during the two day event -- was the realization most of the new wealth and all of the net new jobs in our economy come from new, entrepreneurial enterprises.

Thus, if the only way out of our current economic predicament is to grow our way out -- and I believe that's true -- then our only hope is foster entrepreneurship and help them to build healthy new companies … and not to prop up dying older firms in the misbegotten belief that they will in turn help restore the economy.

At this point, you are probably thinking I'm going to talk about the proposed bail-out of the Big Three U.S. automakers. But I'll leave that to the experts and analysts in that industry. Rather, for my interesting juxtaposition, I want to discuss a troubled company on my own Silicon Valley turf: Sun Microsystems.

I don't write much about Sun because, frankly, I haven't found the company interesting in many years -- especially since the departure of charismatic, always-good-for-a-quote Scott McNealy. In fact, it's been a long time since I even understood why Sun Microsystems existed beyond a certain residual inertia from its younger days, when it dazzled the industry with its workstations and Java software platform.

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