Revolutionary Measures

Silicon Valley, Europe

San Jose Skyline Silicon Valley

Governments across Europe are always obsessing about creating their own Silicon Valleys, rivals to California that will catapult their country/city to international tech prominence, create jobs and make them cool by association. As I’ve said before, this is partly because such talk is cheap – bung a few million pounds/euros into some accelerators, set up a co-working space near a university and you can make some tub-thumping speeches about investing in innovation.

Obviously there’s a lot more to creating a new Silicon Valley than that. So I was interested to read a recent EU survey of European ICT Hubs, which ranks activity across the region. It doesn’t just analyse start-up activity, but also factors such as university strength, external links and business growth. While Munich, East London and Paris top the table, (with Cambridge at the top of tier 2), what is interesting is the sheer number of hubs and their relative strengths, despite many being quite close to each other.

There is a European obsession with a single hub to take on Silicon Valley, but as Paul Stasse points out in this piece on Tech.EU, if you zoom out and centre your ‘hub’ on Brussels, a 400km radius will bring in the majority of the EU’s ICT hubs. So consequently you need to go beyond individual cities or regions to move to a larger scale view. After all, Silicon Valley itself is not a single place, but a collection of cities and towns, that spreads from San Francisco through the Santa Clara Valley. So, while the Santa Clara Valley is geographically 30 miles long and 15 miles wide, the actual area of ‘Silicon Valley’ itself is much bigger.

In that case, why can’t Europe create its own Silicon Valley encompassing multiple hubs? Or even Valleys within countries – it is around 60 miles from London to Cambridge, so it wouldn’t be a stretch to build the M11 Valley (though with a catchier name).

The trouble is, California has some pretty big advantages that have helped Silicon Valley grow. While entrepreneurs and programmers flock there from all around the world there’s one business language (English), one legal system and one predominant culture. Being part of the US gives immediate access to over 300 million people in a single market. Europe’s diversity is both a strength and a weakness – you can’t simply up sticks and move your company from, say, France to Belgium, with the same ease as from San Jose to Palo Alto.

In my opinion what is needed are three things:

1              Be more open
I’m as guilty as the next person, but individual hubs need to look outward more, rather than believing that success ends at the ring road. Only by encouraging conversation between hubs and idea sharing will innovation flourish.

2              Make movement easier
You are never going to change cultures, but the EU has a role to play in standardising the playing field when it comes to creating companies, harmonising legal systems and generally helping create a single market. That way entrepreneurs and companies can move more easily and collaborate, without having to duplicate bureaucracy or red tape.

3          Celebrate what we have
It is time to end the obsession with creating the new Silicon Valley. It isn’t going to happen. Instead, celebrate the ability Europe has to build multiple, interlinked hubs that play to our strengths, rather than bemoan our inability to spawn the next Facebook.

Silicon Valley, Europe may not happen but by supporting existing, successful clusters and hubs we can build a technology industry that can drive innovation, growth and jobs.

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May 21, 2014 Posted by | Cambridge, Startup | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

California Dreaming

Silicon Valley

Silicon Valley (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There have been innumerable attempts to understand and replicate how Silicon Valley has become the centre of the tech industry – with Tech City being the latest one in the UK. What is the secret sauce that makes California in particular and the US in general such a fertile breeding ground for innovation? 

It’s something I’ve often wondered about, so it was great to hear a first hand account of a learning journey to Silicon Valley. Speaking last week at CamCreative, Liz Weston of Weston Marketing talked about what she’d learnt on an organised trip that saw her visit the likes of Google, LinkedIn, Salesforce.com and Stanford University. She shared four big lessons from the tour:

1              The difference between an opportunity and an idea
Everyone has a different take on what makes an idea viable, from an addressable market to a strong founding team, but the big difference between the UK and US is the willingness to have a go, fail and come back stronger. If we can change attitudes in the UK to say it is better to try and then fail rather than fail to try at all, it will radically shift how companies operate for the better. 

2              Four key opportunities for business development
Execs in Silicon Valley outlined the environment, security, human health and digital/infrastructure as key markets for growth. Anything that reduces complexity in these areas and makes people’s lives easier has potential. Probably not a surprise to most people but worth bearing in mind when pitching any business ideas to investors. 

3              Look at the relationship between the customer and your product/services
It isn’t about the technology per se, but finding an emotional trigger with your customers. Serve a purpose and do it in a way that delights your customers and turns them into your advocates. So, in the same way that when Orange launched in the UK it positioned itself as the cool brand you wanted to be part of, LinkedIn offers the chance to be part of a cloud of intelligence, rather than simply positioning itself as a jobs site. 

4              The importance of innovation
Next year’s revenue won’t come from this year’s cash cow. So everyone in the business needs to be innovating – which can involve changing people’s mindsets. Encourage ideas and capture them – while they may not be immediately useful, they could be in the future. 

I’m sure most people have either heard or tried to put into action some of the lessons above. For me, the main takeaway (and potentially the big difference between the US and UK) is always be open, always be learning and don’t be afraid to take risks. This may not be Silicon Valley’s secret sauce but it is a better way to run a business.

 

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April 2, 2012 Posted by | Cambridge, Creative, Startup | , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments