Many cities and regions try to clone Silicon Valley, but I think it’s a waste of time copying a rather unique region. Silicon Valley has many attributes that most regions lack: an open society, talented immigrants, world-class research universities, great weather, an entrepreneurial try-it culture, heavy Pentagon spending in leading-edge technologies, thousands of angel investors, hundreds of venture capital (VC) firms, etc.
So how can regions develop their own Silicon Valley? Bangalore has shown that it’s possible to build a “Silicon Valley of software” by investing heavily in infrastructure and partnering with Silicon Valley via TiE.org. Fortunately, India has a plethora of top IT college graduates and, even then, it’s better at outsourcing than original software design. But it has succeeded in creating many jobs. East London, Cambridge, Oxford, Barcelona, Stockholm, Shanghai, Beijing, New York City, Boulder (Colorado), and Austin, Texas show it’s possible to cultivate startups by creating a supportive ecosystem.
What’s the magic formula? Here are my tips:
– Leverage your strengths. Find your strongest areas of education, technology, marketing, distribution and finance where your region can become world class. In the 1990s, Nokia leveraged its digital technologies from the military to build a global presence. Today, Rovio is building on Finland’s fascination with online and mobile gaming. Entrepreneurs in East London and Berlin are taking advantage of cheap rent to build grassroots tech clusters.
– Transform your weaknesses into strengths. Chinese cities are leveraging their pollution problems to create a solar energy and other green industries, which is a good example of the principle: Necessity is the mother of invention. Find your biggest problems and figure out affordable solutions that can be sold worldwide.
– Connect with Silicon Valley professional organizations. The valley has hundreds of tech organizations, colleges, research centers, and incubators that are open to global collaboration. Just Google them to find suitable partners, offer to collaborate, visit the valley, then establish ongoing programs and projects. It’s easier than you think. The big groups are Tie.org, Monte Jade, Asian American Multitechnology Association, Keizai Society, Silicon Vikings, and Hispanic Net, but look for others.
– Visit Silicon Valley. Visit us or at least send college students, entrepreneurs and research professors here on tours and sabbaticals so they can meet valley organizations and people. The valley is very informal so it’s easy to connect with people. See article, which has a very good description of Silicon Valley values and culture. How can you extend this openness extend to your region? http://onstartups.com/tabid/3339/bid/74008/Visiting-The-Valley-Why-It-s-A-Special-Place-For-Startups.aspx
– Set up an online business network. Showcase your local talent and connect it with Silicon Valley organizations and universities. Direct, informal people-to-people communications is the fastest and most effective way to network with Silicon Valley and other emerging tech regions.
– Organize a contest or online game. Involve Silicon Valley and other regions to participate in your local contests and online games. Make it fun and challenging and you’ll get millions of visitors and many participants. “All the world’s a game.”
The key is to have fun, pick easy challenges initially, network with Silicon Valley and other regions, and just go for it. Bottom-up grassroots initiatives, like the Arab Spring or Occupy, are much faster and more effective than slow, bureaucratic, top-down government programs. After all, Silicon Valley’s entrepreneurial culture is led by entrepreneurs, not bureaucrats. So loosen up, connect and have fun! Then you’ll succeed faster than you can imagine.