A tale of two (Silicon) Valleys

A tale of two (Silicon) Valleys

by Richard Wallace

“Silicon Valley is not a place but a state of mind,” legendary venture capitalist John Doerr famously observed. As a  state of mind the Valley’s a destination that’s attracted unequalled recognition and also exerted a powerful force of attraction for generations of engineers, techies, entrepreneurs and investors from around the world.

While many places around the world have now created their own Silicon Valley like ecosystems (or state of mind, we re-publish an article published by The Next Silicon Valley during our team’s participation during early days at the Global Innovation Summit in San Jose, California, as a media sponsor.

Here is the commentary published on 18th July 2012:

Today, the state of mind in the Valley is vastly different from the Valley of Gordon Moore, Steve Jobs and the legions of entrepreneurs and VCs who have flocked here for decades to turn their disruptive silicon and software visions into reality – and stock options.

In a recent New York Times contributed article venture capitalist Vinod Khosla, another Valley legend, worried out loud about the Valley’s current state of mind and a concern that the present generation of Valley entrepreneurs are “driven by greed, not vision.”

Khosla’s discomfort over the deteriorating values and the distorted vision up and down Highway 101 is reflected in the widely reported angst in the Valley about a soon-to-debut Bravo network ‘Silicon Valley’ reality TV series. “Might it expose, say, vacuousness, venality, or even, perish the concept, truth? It appears the Valley is shuddering,” the subhead of a recent C/Net article opined, referring to local reaction to the pending TV series.

To drive the Valley’s engines of innovation Khosla observed “You want missionaries, not mercenaries – passionate, maniacally focused founders who believe in a vision.” You also need disruption.

“The kind of disruption in food, agriculture, clean energy, health care and education, among many other area, which will likely be driven by a Silicon Valley state of mind.” Whether or not these disruptive innovations actually happen in the place called Silicon Valley however is an open question.

Against this backdrop, T2 Venture Capital, a new class of Valley venture capitalist firm, launched its inagural Global Innovation Summit this week in San Jose. It is an event that seems to encasulate a more accurate and flattering portrait of the Valley’s deeper, enduring values than any reality TV program ever will. It’s too bad there were no television cameras, radio stations, local, regional or national press attending to bear witness. And it’s a shame that more Valley VCs, like Khosla and Doerr were not on hand to offer T2 moral support.

The Global Innovation Summit is the brainchild of Victor Hwang, Greg Horowitt and Al Watkins, the founders of T2, an unusual Silicon Valley venture capital firm with an uncommon background and mix of experience that includes stints in organizations like The World Bank, the UN, public/private partnerships, the U.S. government, economic development agencies – and Silicon Valley venture capital firms.

The first-time event drew over 300 delegates and participants from more than 40 countries to Silicon Valley, not to gawk at reality TV crews or to rub elbows with the next Mark Zuckerberg, but in search of answers to what has become one of the world’s – if not the Valley’s – most urgent questions: How do other countries, regions and cities cultivate ‘innovation ecosystems’ and what is the secret to building the next Silicon Valley?

The latter topic is also the subject and tag line of The Rainforest, a recently published book authored by Hwang and Horowitt that employs the metaphor of rainforest ecosystems to explore current themes and trends in global innovation that connect the the worlds of venture capital, entrepreneurship and economic development in places very remote from Silicon Valley like Botswana, Egypt, Lebanon, India, and Palestine – just to name a few.

The Summit sponsors and partners included some unlikely Silicon Valley bedfellows, including USAID -the United States Agency for International Development – The World Bank, The Lemelson Foundation, the Kauffman Foundation, OECD, Third World Academy of Sciences, the United Nations Commission on Science and Technology & Science and a score or two of other sponsors.

[Full disclosure: The Next Silicon Valley.com, this website, is GIS media sponsors.]

The Summit agenda featured more than 40 speakers from economic development, education, private and public agencies, government, industry, and a full spectrum of innovation-supporting organizations.

While greed and the allure of reality TV may be unsettling some Silicon Valley observers and denizens, this week’s Global Innovation Summit made serious work out of decoding the Silicon Valley genome for attendees and delegates while probing timely topics in distant places where entrepreneurship is a budding phenomenon and the prospect of home-grown technology-driven economic development represents perhaps the best and brightest hope for nations, places and people nearly left behind in past decades by the economic and technological advances of the major industrialized nations of the world.

Today, thanks to the legacy of people like Gordon Moore, Steve Jobs – and yes, Mark Zuckerberg, an emerging generation of entrepreneurs has been empowered and connected by the Internet, smart phones and social networks. This global empowerment has given rise to a new wave of economic and technological advancement and global interconnectedness that previous generations could never have imagined.

Attracted to Silicon Valley as both a mythic destination and a state of mind, GIS delegates participated in the program’s passive and active sessions, all of which were directed at answering some basic questions about Silicon Valley, in general, and innovation ecosystems in particular, including:

Why do only a handful of human networks become so innovative, while others languish? Why do these innovation ecosystems generate so much economic output, and how can we replicate and scale these mechanisms? And, what are the tools that practitioners can use to cultivate dynamic ecosystems that will elevate human welfare everywhere?

To some skeptics the conference’s agenda and its sponsor lineup might appear to be “Gordon Moore meets Margaret Mead,” or science and technology meets social science. Among the most passionately discussed topics and sessions was a well attended Tuesday morning panel, “Rainforest Stories” a discussion devoted to innovation ecosystem success stories  that included examples of people in world regions that are attempting to cultivate entrepreneurial ecosystems in environments with none of the history or advantage of Silicon Valley, including Latin America, India, Lebanon, and Kenya. An afternoon session, “Social Enterprise – Reports from the Field,” examined three case histories of innovation ecosystem projects, two of them in Africa, including the story of Neha Misra, the founder of Solar Sister, an organization dedicated to eradicating “energy poverty by empowering women with economic opportunity.”

If the Summit’s economic and technology agenda seemed orthogonal to the current gestalt in the Valley, it’s overall scope and ambition was downright radical. In Victor Hwang’s Summit keynote on Monday, the T2 founder said the inaugural gathering of delegates was “more than just a meeting of well-intentioned, smart people.”

“We see it as the start of a movement that seeks nothing less than the transformation of the way we think about economic development.” The world, he noted “has squandered untold resources in funding  technoparks, incubators, clusters, scientific research, technical training, and venture capital that have not yielded the expected results.”

Today’s process of innovation depends on the vibrancy of entire systems, not just the strength of isolated, individual components, he added. It’s not just about Khosla’s passionate entrepreneurs, “it is equally crucial to have communities of investors, scientists, engineers, advisers, executives, lawyers, bankers, accountants, landlords, artists and other professionals that support and nurture the full life-cycle of innovation,” a complex human network akin to biological ecosystems – or the Rainforest. It’s a grand vision, Hwang admits,”to reshape the fundemental assumptions, frameworks, and tools of economic development for a new era.”
“The culture of the Valley is like a recipe that allows humans to mix the basic ingredients of innovation – ideas, talent and capital – in more continually productive ways than anywhere else on the planet today. There is no reason why Silicon Valley should have a monopoly on this recipe,” he added.

There will be critics and detractors that will disagree with Hwang’s conclusion and argue their point until apricot orchards grow again in the Valley. But icons like Gordon Moore and Steve Jobs would not argue with the Valley’s Yoda-like code, still extant but endangered, today, and clearly articulated in Tuesday’s Summit session: 1. Break rules and dream, 2. Open doors and listen, 3. Trust and be trusted, 4. Experiment and innovate together, 5. Seek fairness, not advantage, 6. Err, fail, and persist, 7. Pay it forward.

It’s a curious and ironic fact that more than 300 people from diverse walks of life and interets traveled to the Silicon Valley from the corners of the earth this week to gather and commune at T2’s Global Innovation Summit and to learn, and to live, the innovation life-lessons that some in the Valley seem all to willing to jettison in its current, vision-less “vacuousness, venality” state of mind.


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