Do You Think You Can Copy Silicon Valley?

Doesn’t it seem like every other place wants to be Silicon Valley? We call the New York tech scene Silicon Alley, Portland is Silicon Forest, somewhere in Southern California is Silicon Beach, Austin Texas is Silicon Hills, and so on. There’s job envy, and growth envy. Googling “the next Silicon Valley” generates 46 million hits.

So I like the juxtaposition of two articles in MIT Technology review that contradict each other delightfully.

Silicon Valley MIT Technology Review

The first, from MIT Technology Review on July 3, is Silicon Valley Can’t be Copied. Author Vivek Wadhwa subtitled his piece “For 50 years, the experts have tried to figure out what makes Silicon Valley tick. The answer is people.” He explains:

Note that from 1995 to 2005, 52.4 percent of engineering and technology startups in Silicon Valley had one or more people born outside the United States as founders. That was twice the rate seen in the U.S. as a whole. Immigrants like me who came to Silicon Valley found it easy to adapt and assimilate. We were able to learn the rules of engagement, create our own networks, and participate as equals. These days, the campuses of companies such as Google resemble the United Nations. Their cafeterias don’t serve hot dogs; they serve Chinese and Mexican dishes, and curries from both northern and southern India.

This is the diversity—a kind of freedom, really—in which innovation thrives. The understanding of global markets that immigrants bring with them, the knowledge they have of different disciplines, and the links that they provide to their home countries have given the Valley an unassailable competitive advantage as it has evolved from making radios and computer chips to producing search engines, social media, medical devices, and clean energy technology.

The second, published in the same MIT Technology Review yesterday, is Brad Feld on the Rise of Global Startup Communities. In which “startup scenes are popping up in cities all over the world.” That’s an interview with Brad Feld:

In his by-the-bootstraps guide, the 2012 book Startup Communities, Feld laid out a guru-ish, four-point plan for how to create a growing mass of startup companies. But his rules boil down to just one: entrepreneurs must be the “leaders.” Everyone else—universities, governments, investors—are “feeders” that, though important, can’t kick-start a startup community on their own. Feld says if even fewer than a dozen established entrepreneurs team up and get serious—create an incubator, for instance—that nearly any city from Detroit to Cape Town can create a meaningful startup sector.

Feld’s principles have weight because he’s lived by them. He is a co-creator of TechStars, which gives startups seed money and three months of intensive training. Conspicuously absent from Silicon Valley, TechStars instead operates in seven other American cities, including Boston, Chicago, and Austin.

To me it’s perfectly reasonably that both of these contradictory points of view could be true. That’s good editing.  What do you think?


  • Charles Robinson says:

    I think when most cities compare their own burgeoning startup communities to Silicon Valley it’s only insofar as they are technology-based. Here in Charleston we have a city-funded incubator program called the Charleston Digital Corridor that was created specifically for technology companies, and the city is sometimes referred to as Silicon Harbor. This only started after some entrepreneurs kicked it off, as Feld said.

    The reasons the city became involved are similar to what Robbie said: economic impact, wealth creation, and jobs. It’s also about industry diversification since our economy is primarily tourism based.

  • Robbie Vitrano says:

    The mistake, it seems, in comparing anyone to Silicon Valley or more precisely, in comparing one start-up community to another, is to assume that all have the same objectives. SV goal is to create wealth for investors by magnitude. Some communities would like to mobilize entrepreneurship as an agent of change, talent retention and to strengthen the social fabric. Yes, economic impact, wealth creation and jobs, but as a means to an ends. If you lean libertarian you may not see much of a difference. But for the rest of us in places like New Orleans where it has taken 13+ years to reverse decades of decline and build trust and an engaged community, the difference is important.

  • Cale Bruckner says:

    You forgot to mention our own Silicon Shire startup community ; ) I agree with Feld – any community can create a meaningful startup community. But, with that said, the Silicon Valley can’t be replicated either

    • Tim Berry says:

      Hi Cale, thanks for dropping by. I didn’t forget our own, actually, but I was looking for a bit more universally recognized examples. I’m glad you added it back in.

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