Is There Technology Life Beyond Silicon Valley? Why Cities Should Focus on Their Own Growth Industries

It is commonly said that imitation is the highest form of flattery. The statement particularly applies to Silicon Valley. Venture capitalists and technology firms have long looked to Silicon Valley as a blueprint for entrepreneurial success, and it is no surprise. The area is home to numerous high-tech businesses, including almost 40 in the Fortune 1000 and thousands of startups. Furthermore, over a quarter of a million IT workers call the region home, bringing together some of the brightest minds in the world.

However, what several firms and communities fail to recognize is that Silicon Valley is unique. It cannot be duplicated. Many have tried and eventually given up, such as when Frederick Terman, known as the “father of Silicon Valley,” was recruited to recreate the Stanford centered phenomenon in New Jersey and Dallas. The plans fell flat, not because the cities neglected to adopt technology and innovation, but because these locations did not embrace the cooperation needed between universities, research, local talent, and businesses that make this formula work. Building a functioning technology hub takes more than academia, industry interest, and incentives. What it requires are people and companies that are willing to work together.

However, every tech-minded community has their own contribution to give the world. The industries of the future are open to new and innovative cities that want to harness the power of their talent, resources, and drive. Therefore, being a carbon copy of Silicon Valley is not only impossible, but it is acceptable to be different.

While Silicon Valley capitalized on their start as a high-tech aviation locale during World War II, transforming themselves into the tech-minded startup headquarters it is today, other regions need to stop trying to clone Silicon Valley and find the industry that fits their culture. Scandinavia, applying the independent and adventurous spirit of their citizens, South Korea, becoming an industrial leader on a global scale through the fortitude of their people, and Japan, whose populace has committed themselves to aggressively pursuing the growth market of robotics, have all carved out their own place in becoming a destination for industries of the future.

To do this effectively, these areas need to focus on solutions that not only come from localized data and utilized technology, but they need to determine the mindset of the city. Silicon Valley is full of a diverse population that is embraced by the community, and while they come from different backgrounds, they share a longing for entrepreneurship. 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. Companies welcome talent from around the world, making it easy for those relocating to incorporate themselves into the area. Entrepreneurs had the same support system as well. Instead of being the only person sacrificing for your startup, you are one of many going through the trials and tribulations of figuring out your business. Failure is not something to be afraid of, as long as you learn from your mistakes.

As countless technology firms move into the future, they are faced with not only a culturally diverse workforce, but a global one.  While many job seekers will move across state lines and national borders for a position, a tech-savvy workforce no longer requires team members always to be physically present. Globalization, technology, and cross-border opportunities have given way to a remote workforce that can complete the job without having to invest in a hefty relocation, thanks to email, Skype, instant messaging, screen shares, and mobile apps.

This lack of talent physically moving into a city may eliminate the formula that made Silicon Valley what it is today. What that means for other locations is that valuable people are available to them, no matter where they are located. In addition, residing in a place like Silicon Valley presents challenges for residents, including a high cost of living, long commutes, and the fast pace of life. Other municipalities, such as Boston, San Diego, and Portland are attracting top businesses and talent with lower home prices, attractive climates, and family-friendly neighborhoods. For example, Boston isn’t trying to be Silicon Valley, but the metropolis is encouraging growth in tech by bringing together what it has to offer, such as an increasing interest in startups from venture capitalists, a supportive network of entrepreneurs, and being home to some of the top STEM universities in the world.

Silicon Valley has a one-of-a-kind combination of talent, top universities, money supply, and well-known companies that call the area home, and what Silicon Valley has is not something that can be repeated. That is ok, and trying to force the same results will only result in failure. The true lesson learned from Silicon Valley is not to repeat mistakes, use the assets your city offers, and to forge your own path.


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