Back in 1992, when I was the technology editor at the San Jose Mercury News, I wrote in a note attached to the annual Silicon Valley 100 report that Silicon Valley was “a state of mind” rather than a narrow geography. I was thinking that it was a San Francisco Bay Area thing rather than exclusively a Santa Clara Valley thing. Well, today, it’s a global thing.
That reality hit home with me today at the IBM SmartCamp Finals in San Francisco. The winners of nine regional contests conducted last year have gathered here to compete this week to be the global winner of the contest, which offers participants loads of advice from venture capital and business experts and a shot at media attention. These companies came from all over: India, Romania, Israel, Ireland, Spain, China, Brazil, and, yes, the United States–including an outfit, SecureWaters, from Soddy Daisy, Tennessee. Which helps prove my point. These days, a Silicon Valley experience can happen practically anywhere. (Oh, by the way. The “Irish” company is led by a guy from the Ukraine and two guys from Belarus.)
To be sure, the US still gets the lion’s share of venture capital investment–$28 billion last year compared to about half that for the rest of the world. But leading venture capital firms long ago set up satellite offices in China, India and elsewhere, and James Breyer, a top VC at Accel Partners, is crawling all over Brazil these days looking for hot startup investment opportunities.
The Silicon Valley experience has globalized along with everything else. Capital, knowledge work, the innovative spirit and the drive to build a great company and change the way things are done are spreading around the world like water–finding the spots were they can be most effectively put to good and profitable use. Think of it as Virtual Silicon Valley.
One thing that characterizes the new global entrepreneurs is their approach to markets. Rather than concentrating on their home country exclusively during their startup phases, they see the world as their market right from the get go. BitCarrier, a Barcelona-based company that tracks the movements of people and cars real time through mobile Wi-Fi and Bluetooth signals emitted by mobile devices, has engagements underway in Europe, South America and the United States. It’s racing to get at least small scale implementations of its technology underway in many cities before competitors can gain toeholds.
Over the next couple of days, the leaders of the nine IBM SmartCamp finalists will get a strong offering of feedback and advice from some of the most knowledgeable investors in the world. Only one company can be the official winner, but the other eight will go back to their home countries all the wiser, carrying with them that Silicon Valley state of mind. “Here, there are no boundaries. Things go mad and crazy. The only limits are your imagination,” says Ronald Zhang, president of Palmap, a SmartCamp finalist from Beijing. “We want to bring the spirit of entrepreneurship back with us to China.”