BC v. Silicon Valley, Pt. II

Continuing on from last time’s discussion of Silicon Valley and the benefits of population density, the logical next step is to talk about one of the side benefits of having so many geeks in one place.

Hot Geek Action!

That’s right, you heard me – hot geek action. Read it again if necessary.

Silicon Valley is quite good at bringing people together. Sure, everyone’s a transplanted workaholic with no social life, but when there’s a chance of getting together to ogle a successful entrepreneur, glean a few tips for success, or grab a glimpse of the future of the tech industry, you have to beat the geeks off with a stick. It’s an insidiously effective positive feedback loop: the people smart enough to run the gauntlet to a liquidity event mold a new generation to follow in their footsteps.

Having a lot of smart people in a region by itself is no guarantee of success – you need to actually gather them together from time to time. You need the members of the population to actually engage with each other, to publicly lick old war wounds, tout their successes, and generally impart wisdom to the general population. Silicon Valley does this very well – any day of the week there’s any number of public events, speeches, meet-ups, featuring people far more successful than you who are willing to tell you how they got where they are today, the mistakes they made along the way, and how you might go about duplicating their success. Half the time, these events are extremely cheap; the other half, they’re free.

While you’re at these get-togethers, you’ll meet another bunch of people who are either exactly like the speaker or, like you, are hoping to be in the speaker’s place in about five years. Things tend to happen.

Now, compare this with the environment in the Lower Mainland.

During my MBA, I was considering joining the Vancouver Board of Trade – until I found out that it would cost $200 to join. This was the student price. In addition, any event that would be worthwhile attending would cost another $40 or so to attend. Talk about a really effective way to kill interest in participation in the community. Comparing this to paying $10 as a non-member of the CSPA and see Jerry Kaplan speak for an hour and a half, or donating $10 to the Computer History Museum to see Steve Case (and mingle with the likes of Woz and Walt Mossberg), I can’t help but feel that organizations in Vancouver are shooting themselves in the foot.

Part of the goal of these industry organizations should be about breaking down communication barriers, and encouraging connections within the business community. That’s how Silicon Valley businesses grow better, faster, and win. And business isn’t the only one that needs to be doing this on an ongoing basis – universities have to be constantly making connections to smooth the transition of technology from the lab to market.

Stanford has this program I just discovered, the Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders Program. It’s a free class that’s open to the public with the express purpose of bringing together the academic and business communities. It hosts an impressive list of speakers drawn from the local business community. Talk about breaking down barriers! And yet when I suggested bringing together the Engineers and MBA students at UBC for a combination entrepreneurship/engineering project course, all I heard from members of the administration were excuses over how it couldn’t be done because of the differences in tuition fees between the two programs. Lame. Maybe Stanford had that problem, and routed around it by doing it for free as a public service.

This brings me to my next rule for duplicating Silicon Valley’s success:

  • Reduce the barriers to bringing people together: Nobody creates a revolution in isolation – get people from all industries, all ages, talking, mingling, sharing, and learning from each other.

Next time: Thinking Big