Yesterday I published a piece about Newry in Northern Ireland, which is looking to help boost its economy by encouraging a startup ecosystem. A little later, a post entitled ‘You will not be the next Silicon Valley, please stop trying‘ appeared over on Pando Daily, in which the author decided pull a bunch of Irish stereotypes out of the bag to attack the idea.
Now, I could detail everything that’s wrong with the article, but the comments there do a perfect job of ripping it apart. It certainly missed the point of what’s happening in Newry. Indeed, if Trevor Gilbert, author of the Pando Daily piece, had looked beyond the Emerald Valley incubator’s name he’d see that in no way is it trying to be the next Silicon Valley. It would be unrealistic to suggest that any location has a chance of replicating the startup ecosystem in northern California – at least for a few generations.
Why should people stop trying to build the next Silicon Valley, though? What is Silicon Valley if it’s not a strong, established, sustainable ecosystem with generations of successful entrepreneurs? Why would anyone not want that?
Now, it’s easy to get caught up in ‘The next Silicon Valley!’ hype when someone is trying to sell stakeholders on a bid to encourage tech startups to move in to an area. Selling yourself as that is the route to disappointment and disillusionment when Ron Conway hasn’t booked a flight to your provincial industrial estate within three years. However, successful startup hubs around the world don’t try to copy Silicon Valley – they look at what it has done and modify it to local circumstances.
Nothing stays the same forever
In the past 18 months, I’ve visited cities like Berlin and Copenhagen where significant clusters of startups and investors are starting to emerge. I’ve been to Tel Aviv, which is probably currently the world’s greatest startup city outside of California – it’s successful but still has holes it knows it needs to fill, particularly in terms of a strong local investor network. I’ve also visited places further east, like Kiev and Romania, where things are a generally a little further behind, but there are people there who know what needs to be done.
In all of these places, they know that a combination of local talent from well-resourced universities, a network of informed angel investors and VCs, and startups with a strong vision and the ambition to build big disruptive businesses, are all factors they need to have in place if they want to become a greater force on the world stage.
These places are learning from Silicon Valley, and while they’re not claiming they ever will beat the place they’re inspired by, they might do - it may take 50 years, but to say that Silicon Valley is the undisputed technology capital of the world forever is naive to say the least.
Detroit used to be a motor industry boom town and is now in decline. The city I grew up in, Bradford was at the centre of the world’s wool trade at one point, but it’s full of second-hand mobile phone stores and ‘Everything for a pound!’ shops now.
The fortunes of locations rise and locations fall. So, while Berlin, London, Copenhagen, Kiev or even Newry might not have a chance of being a new Silicon Valley tomorrow, next year or in ten years, they shouldn’t stop trying, because nothing stays the same forever.