Canadians Shouldn't Copy Silicon Valley, We Should Make Our Own

07/07/2014 12:41 EDT | Updated 09/06/2014 05:59 EDT

Silicon Valley: the global centre for technological innovation. Every year thousands of individuals from all over the world flock to Silicon Valley to become the next Whatsapp inventors. Sensing an opportunity to build an economic powerhouse, even governments and organizations around the world are attempting to duplicate the success of Silicon Valley in their own backyards.

From Beijing, to Berlin, to Toronto, every city is scrambling to replicate Silicon Valley to capitalize on the successes that have made it the new global economic powerhouse. While every city can utilize resources to create the next Silicon Valley, can they really bring the same resources that have made this economic powerhouse so successful? The resources in question include:

(1) Expansive Ecosystem: One of the biggest advantages of Silicon Valley is the fact that it has had a head start at building a talented ecosystem. From the global technology powerhouses of Google and Cisco to the growing mid-sized upstarts such as Uber and AirBnb, and the myriad small startup teams, Silicon Valley has the range and diversity of companies to enable everyone to learn from and aspire to be them.

(2) Diverse & Large Talent Pool: While the diversity of corporations that is critical, so it is the talent available. From the plethora of successful serial entrepreneurs to the venture capitalists who support the startup building, Silicon Valley has a sufficient talent pool across all ranges to assist any entrepreneur.

(3) Fail Safe & Independent Culture: The biggest advantage that Silicon Valley has over other such places is its culture. While it has recently been criticized for its rose-colored viewpoints concerning new technologies and their impact on society, Silicon Valley is a "safe" atmosphere that has enabled some the most successful disruptive ideas to thrive.

Many argue that the success of Silicon Valley has started to impede on its future growth due to a number of issues from income inequality to sky high rents, but the elements highlighted above don't have anything to do with economics, but rather with culture. If economics were the sole factor for why Silicon Valley has achieved its current success, then it would be easily replicable globally. Unfortunately, for those attempting to replicate Silicon Valley's success, these intangible cultural factors are proving hard to duplicate, leading to the question of what approach other potential innovation hubs should pursue.

In the quest to be number one, many governments look to Silicon Valley and believe that all they need is to copy the processes and ecosystem that have developed in Silicon Valley. Unfortunately, while the processes and the ecosystem can be replicated around the globe, they will not have the same success as in Silicon Valley.

Why is this? There are a number of intangible factors, including culture and individual personalities, which allow the Silicon Valley processes and ecosystem to work. Canada and other like-minded countries attempting to build their own version of Silicon Valley should first look at their strengths and differences and find ways to enhance them, instead of blindly copying the "Silicon Valley" model. Areas for consideration include:

(1) Cultural Differences: Cultural differences play a significant role in successful innovation. Silicon Valley attracts the brash and bold entrepreneur who may not find their comfort zone in more introverted environments, such as Canada. Tailoring incubators that meet local cultural traits is critical to building a successful innovation ecosystem.

(2) Regulatory Ecosystem: Silicon Valley's processes and ecosystem have developed due to the regulatory environment that it is in this region. From the relative ease of capital flows to the laissez-faire attitude that prevails when it comes to regulations, Silicon Valley, along with its surrounding ecosystem partners, has developed something that is critical for ecosystem development. Silicon Valley has managed to take hold due to the fact that nearly all its various ecosystem partners are working together rather than at cross purposes.

(3) Natural Science and Technology Strengths: Silicon Valley has also managed to build itself into an economic powerhouse due to the available natural science and technology strengths. With world renowned institutions such as Stanford producing high quality computer science graduates, continuing production of cutting edge research and strong commercialization capabilities, Silicon Valley is leveraging its strengths to commercial success. Other nations attempting to match Silicon Valley's innovation would be best advised to look at their natural science and technology strengths versus building them up. With scientific and technological change moving at a rapid pace, it is unknown where and how progress will move forward. For nations to put "all their eggs in one basket" considering future uncertainty would be foolish and unwise.

(4) Natural Economic Advantages: Each nation has natural economic advantages that they have exploited throughout the decades. Canada, for example, has been leveraging its abundance in natural resources to power its economy for decades. As such, Canada has accumulated decades of expertise in natural resources that can provide a competitive economic advantage which can be further refined as Canada searches for its Silicon Valley equivalent.

Every nation, including Canada, dreams of building the next Silicon Valley. However, this means more than just copying what makes Silicon Valley great. It also means leveraging existing advantages that are prevalent nationally and building the right processes and ecosystem, while taking into account the differences that make nations unique from Silicon Valley.

Along with Canada, many nations are taking these differences into account and are developing innovation ecosystems around them. A great example is Accelerate Muskoka, which is developing an accelerator specifically tailored to water innovation, a field well suited to Canada. Nations trying to build their own "Silicon Valley" need to take steps such as these to become competitive and to attract investment and grow.


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