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Can London become Europe’s Silicon Valley?

It’s the people, stupid

The key, of course, to all of this, is people – building a community of techies and entrepreneurs, as Mike Schroepfer, VP of engineering at Facebook, points out:

“Mark [Zuckerberg] didn’t start Facebook in Silicon Valley. He started it on Harvard’s campus but made the very overt, explicit decision to move to Silicon Valley, because that’s where he could find the people and the mentors he needed to start the company.”

The ease that entrepreneurs can set up in Silicon Valley is a clear bonus. “It’s a case of competitive advantage – it’s about places that can make entrepreneurs, CEOs and investors pull in the talent,” explains serial entrepreneur and angel investor Sherry Coutu.

“Absolutely,” adds Google’s Megan Smith. “Talent doesn’t pay attention to borders any more. The luckiest countries are those that attract talent from everywhere, and enable them to get visas and set up businesses.”

Google’s Zurich office was only started because Google couldn’t get enough visas to the US and the company had a head engineer based in Zurich, Megan Smith explains. “It’s a place with access, and now there’s several hundred engineers in Zurich that could have been in California. That’s America’s loss.”

But clearly, the Silicon Valley ecosystem still pulls a lot of weight internationally. Seminal to the Valley – and which doesn’t exist elsewhere – is that failure is totally accepted; people are allowed to fail, start again and become successful.

“People in Silicon Valley figure out very quickly that you need to collaborate with your competitors, because in three or four years, you’re probably going to be working at the same company,” says Facebook’s Mike Schroepfer.

Daniel Yates, CEO and founder of energy efficiency software company Opower, agrees: “It’s a successful ecosystem. It’s about doing everything you can to attract the right people to build an entrepreneurial software universe.

“Once you’ve got a lot of talented people, and you’re sharing office space and they’re switching jobs, success starts to manifest itself. But the first thing is coming up with ways to get the right people to come together.”

Government” What government?

David Helliwell, founder of Pulse Energy, warns the government should back off however, that London’s Tech City needs to happen organically.

“You’re never going to replace Silicon Valley. Even though cities across the world want to take that model and become the next Silicon Valley, I don’t think it’s going to happen,” he explains.

“It wasn’t a government department that decided to set Silicon Valley up – there wasn’t a government support plan to make any of the initial things happen in Silicon Valley. All cities can do is play to their strengths and hope it happens.”

Reid Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn, agrees: “It’s not as simple as government/non-government. It’s more complicated than that. The real question is how do you get to these massive companies, to the Apples, Googles and Facebooks” How do you form networks around them?

“It isn’t just about employees – which of course do really matter a lot – but about the networks around the companies, about being able to access the right advice, the right connections.”

Reid Hoffman and David Helliwell’s point is valid: you can’t force East London’s Tech City to be successful. But as a nation of entrepreneurs, we can have a damn good stab at creating Europe’s number one tech hub.

Who’s with us?


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