Tag Archives: Immigrant

A letter to and about America

While looking at old files, I found a letter, written by a family member in october 1993. At the time, I was living in California. I read it again, loved it so much for personal reasons but also found it so farseeing that I decided to share it here. Hopefully some of you will like it. If you read French, go to the French page, if not forgive my awkward translation…

Tell me, my good friends, what is America? The roughness of the confines, this impossible frontier where humans find themselves by violence stripped of lies, where the truth is revealed? The old southern lands, so carnal, so indolent, so cruel? The devastating wind gusts and hurricanes in the business that are moving people across the country? The Blacks, the Yellows, the Darks, the Goldens and the Indians who open casinos in their reservations, just to take some power from the Whites? The Indians are a faded dream, like Route 66, like the Rocky Mountain train. In Europe, paradoxically, we experience America in a visual mode more than in writing or thinking. Everyone does not read Tocqueville, but then, who is Tocqueville’s successor? There remains the image. Fake images where violence and melodrama reigned, between popcorn and ice cream, the tanned men of westerns, statues of dust and wind, the dazzling comedians of the musicals, Miles Davies, head down, dark glasses, emaciated face, pushing on his trumpet in a corner, excited suffragettes and delusional sodomites. The true and the false mix, merge. The memory stutters. De Niro continues to return to his companions, the steelmakers, on a rainy night, climbing a muddy street lined with small pavilions, in the blue-gray, monstrous and motley decor of foundries; Kennedy collapses again in the back of his big convertible car, under the bewildered look of Jackie; and I still go around Long Island and Brooklyn to approach the arrogant challenge of the Manhattan Towers. Or I fly high mountains, deserts, lakes, endless plains, where the eye hangs, staking the immensity, pressed and tight clusters of skyscrapers, mounds of the day, monuments of glass and concrete in the silence of nights, built to the glory of which unknown dead god.

I watch sometimes CBS Evening News, I see people worry about everything and anything, to the obsession. Haunted by cancer, cellulite, poisoned milk, fast weight loss, tobacco smoke, the nimble hands of men and the eyes of others. I wonder: what has become of proud America? Or did it ever exist only in presidents’ speeches on the state of the Union? What is America? Thoreau and the transcendentalists, Charles Ives, the musician insurer, who has captured better than anyone else the roar of the choral society, the feast and the provincial slowness, the immensity of the lands and the simplicity of the beings? Or Blacks who are perhaps the most American of Americans since they have really lost their roots (Africa is not a place, but a myth and rhythms while emigrants still have families, which in Sicily, which in Korea, which in Mexico, which in Ireland)? Or this “melting pot” that does not mix, but that unites because in the manner of the feudal society, the membership is aimed at people, the sworn faith, requests the individual to the noblest of itself? (Perhaps we should not laugh too much at the Bibles deposited in the hotel rooms, which symbolize the direct and intimate relationship that Protestants establish between man and his creator. Transposed, we perceive the direct relationship, transcendent of all the administrative, legal, institutional mediations that unite the American man to America: God is America. Like God, would it be inaccessible to our intellect?) We find everything, apparently in America. Would it be the store of the creator, La Samaritaine of eternity? Is America out of time? Alice in the land of rubble wanders among abandoned silos, deserted factories, discarded jerrycans, worn tires, rusted bodies, to discover in the spreading fields the unexpected, the surprising, the eternally new. America, pioneering and tired.

I say this to myself, but maybe I’m wrong. The ambiguous attitude that we Old Europeans have towards America is rather a parent-child relationship that combines ambition, hope, expectation and disappointment, surprise and misunderstanding, rapture and exasperation, tenderness and anger. Recognition, ignorance. A new being has come out of us, which prolongs us but which is not ourselves and whose destiny escapes us. America, America, the dream of the emigrant, but also in some way our dream to all of us. The new Jerusalem or the new Babylon. Something strikes, if one tries to fly over the centuries. The other side. The other side of the hills, the other side of the mountains. We are people of little witnesses, of limited horizons. Who have often quarreled, fought, gorged from valley to valley, from castle to castle, from village to village, from country to country. Less to take, if not rapine, less to enlarge than to establish a place, a domain, a territory as part of oneself, from which the other will be excluded, tolerated at best, always in an extraneous situation. And suddenly, these Lilliputians are leaving. Do you realize, my friends, what such a departure represents? It is not exactly a question of travel, of the traveler’s curiosity – there has always been Herodotus, Marco Polo. No more the trade or the wandering that follows the path of exchange. Demographics, economics, politics of the powers, religion can nourish the motivations and satisfy the historian. Still, there needs to be a higher determination that guides choices. How to name it? The call of the unknown, the will to force the destiny, the ability to face the mystery? We are lacking beings, says the philosopher. Beings of desire. To miss is to have the desire of something else, which can not be defined since one has a negative idea of it. An incredible audacity: to deny the present to open oneself to the mystery. Standing, eyes open on the horizon. To confront the immensity of the ocean and its fury, to approach lands as vast as the sea, to sink deep in immense forests, shadow cathedrals swarming with a strange life, to follow the trace of the sun in the mirages of gold of the desert, to discover bizarre, incomprehensible, wild manners, and peoples more numerous than grains of sand on the beach. But above all to be in front of the excess in the excess without yielding. And to stay, or to come back, with in the head, the distant little world, so far away, left so long ago, whose tiny outlines slowly become numb in the sleep of remembrance. What was at the heart of this obstinate will? Perhaps the secret trace of a very long memory. After all, each of us goes down more or less from distant invaders. Celts, Franks, Germans, Goths, who were our ancestors? And have we kept in the recesses of our desires the imprint of these ancient migrations?

Asia, Africa, America, all these continents were not equally offered to the coming settlers. Asia, Africa, worlds too full already or natures too difficult, too hostile. There remained America, and particularly North America, with a cowardly occupation whose Atlantic coast, at the 40th parallel, was not altogether so exotic for Europeans. The spirit of enterprise of Protestants did the rest. One could build a New England and imagine that one would reproduce while purging it in a sort of Virgilian dream the old mother Europe. What is America then? Viewed retrospectively, it can appear as the development of a simple historical conjuncture, as the fruit of chance and necessity. Or would one say such was the fate inscribed, almost from all eternity, on this piece of continent? Why do I think that, thinking of America, I have the feeling of an infinitely old reality and an unfinished promise? In this sense, if America stems from a destiny, this destiny is always to come, always remains an opening on the unexpected.

This for example, which is about understanding. We Frenchmen have the religion of a well-conducted text, according to the order of the reasons: we like a well-conducted reflection and what is more amiable than to go from the idea to its consequences; we are legislators of writing. American pragmatism tends to advance general ideas that are supported by the analysis of facts. [I put this in bold, it was not in the letter.] This does not free them from prejudices, but gives them a powerful mobility and protects them against the excess of systems. But I believe that in the intellectual crisis that we are going through, we will not be able to find the way if we do not find a satisfactory understanding of the multiple and multiplicity, which is blocked, or at least thwarted, by the need for a unitary interpretation, a deeply rooted need as it comes from Christian theology and its Hebrew antecedents. Because America is essentially multiple, because the unitary is at home only the means to associate and coordinate these multiplicities in the faith in America and the faith in the individual, perhaps the novel thoughts will come from across the Atlantic. And as usual, we will systematize them. For the pleasure of order. Eternal youth of America? But what is America?

Forgive me for writing to you so late. (I hope this overloaded letter will come to you.) Thank you for giving me some news. So few people do it. But I am a bad letter-writer. I run after the money that runs after clever evils and I miss the time.
I kiss you,
Georges, October 2, 1993.

An analysis of EPFL’s Spin-offs and its Entrepreneurial Ecosystem

I usually do not mix my EPFL activity and my blog activity. This is one of the rare exceptions. At EPFL’s startup unit, we just published a short report describing EPFL spin-offs. Here is a short link. By the way you can also visit the pages about EPFL’s support to entrepreneurship.

The report gives data about value creation through fund raising and job creation and also about a known phenomenon, the importance of migrants for entrepreneurship. I am aware that value creation is a sensitive topic, all the more that in Europe venture capital has not proven a real correlation with value. It may even have destroyed more value than created any…

Alexander Grothendieck, 1928 – 2014

What link is there between Andrew Grove (the previous article) and Alexandre Grothendieck? Beyond their common initials, a similar youth – both were born in the communist Eastern Europe they left for a career in the West) and the fact they have become icons of their world, they just represent my two professional passions: startups and mathematics. The comparison stops there, no doubt, but I’ll get back to it.

Two books (both in French) were published in January 2016 about the life of this genius: Alexander Grothendieck – in the footsteps of the last mathematical genius by Philippe Douroux and Algebra – elements of the life of Alexander Grothendieck by Yan Pradeau. If you like mathematics (I should say the mathematical science) or even if you do not like it, read these biographies.

livres_alexandre_grothendieck

I knew as many others about the atypical route of this stateless citizen who became a great figure of mathematics – he received the Fields Medal in 1966 – and then decided to live in seclusion from the world for over 25 years in a small village close to the Pyrenees until his death in 2014. I also have to confess that I knew nothing of his work. Reading these two books shows me that I was not the only one, as Grothendieck had explored lands that few mathematicians could follow. I also found the following stories:
– At age 11, he calculated the circumference of the circle and deduced that π is equal to 3.
– Later, he reconstructed the theory of Lebesgue measure. He was not 20 years old.
– A prime number has his name, 57, who nevertheless is 3 x 19.
Yes, it is worth discovering the life of this illustrious mathematician.

tableau_alexandre_grothendieck

The reason for the connection I made between Grove and Grothendieck is actually quite tenuous. It comes from this quote: “There are only two true visionaries in the history of Silicon Valley. Jobs and Noyce. Their vision was to build great companies … Steve was twenty, un-degreed, some people said unwashed, and he looked like Ho Chi Minh. But he was a bright person then, and is a brighter man now … Phenomenal achievement done by somebody in his very early twenties … Bob was one of those people who could maintain perspective because he was inordinately bright. Steve could not. He was very, very passionate, highly competitive.” Grove was close Noyce in more ways than one, and extremely rational and according to Grove, Noyce was too lax! Grothendieck would be closer to Jobs. A hippie, a passionate individual and also somehow self-taught. Success can come from so diverse personalities.

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Last point in common or perhaps a difference. The migration. Grove became a pure American. Grothendieck was an eternal stateless, despite his French passport. But both show its importance. Silicon Valley is full of migrants. I often talk about this here. We know less that what is called “the French school of mathematics” also has its migrants. If you go to the French wikipedia page of the Fields Medal, you can read:

Ten “Fields medalists’ are former students of the Ecole Normale Superieure: Laurent Schwartz (1950), Jean-Pierre Serre (1954), René Thom (1958), Alain Connes (1982), Pierre-Louis Lions (1994) Jean-Christophe Yoccoz (1994), Laurent Lafforgue (2002), Wendelin Werner (2006), Cédric Villani (2010) and Ngo Bao Chau (2010). This would make “Ulm” the second institution after the ‘Princeton’ winners, if the ranking was the university of origin of the medal and not the place of production. Regarding the country of origin, we arrive at a total of fifteen Fields medalists from French laboratories, which could put France ahead as the formative nations of these eminent mathematicians.

But in addition to Grothendieck, the stateless, Pierre Deligne, Belgian, had his thesis with him, Wendelin Werner was naturalized at the age of 9 years, Ngo Bao Châu the year he received the Fields Medal, after doing all his graduate studies in France, and Artur Avila is Brazilian and French … One could speak of the International of Mathematics, which might not have displeased Alexander Grothendieck.

Immigrants and Unicorns

Thanks to the a16z weekly newsletter, I just discovered another interesting study about the importance of migrants in the US innovation landscape: Immigrants and the Billion Dollar Startups (in pdf). Here are some key findings:
– 51 percent, or 44 out of 87, of the country’s $1 billion startup companies had at least one immigrant founder.
– 62 of the 87 companies, or 71 percent, had at least one immigrant helping the company grow and innovate.
– immigrant founders have created an average of approximately 760 jobs per company in the United States.
Of course this is limited to the Unicorns, private companies with a rather young history, but these are impressive data.

Immigrants and Billion Dollar Startups

If you have never read anything about the importance of migrants in Silicon Valley, you might also be interested in the work of AnnaLee Saxenian. Now, I copied the data from the study, to add my own comments:

Unicorns_and_migrants

In terms of geography, out of the 44 start-ups, 14 are based in Silicon Valley and 12 in close-by San Francisco.
In terms of education, out of the 60 immigrant founders, 23 have studied in the US universities, including 5 at Stanford and 1 at Berkeley vs. 4 at Harvard and 2 at MIT.
In terms of origin, the study gives the individual countries and I was interested at Europe: 15 come from the European Union vs. 14 from India and 7 from Israel.
Interesting, right?

When Entrepreneurship Meets Street Art

From time to time, I post articles not related to start-ups and entrepreneurship, but to other topics such as Street Art for example. Now comes the opportunity to join both thanks to Banksy. Indeed I can even relate both to migrants (who are a critical component of entrepreneurship). Banksy recently created the following Street Art work:

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Banksy explained: “We’re often led to believe migration is a drain on the country’s resources, but Steve Jobs was the son of a Syrian migrant. Apple is the world’s most profitable company, it pays over $7 billion a year in taxes—and it only exists because they allowed in a young man from Homs.” Do I need to add about the importance of migrants in high-tech entrepreneurship? If yes, just read again AnnaLee Saxenian, Migration, Silicon Valley, and Entrepreneurship.

How do you measure your entrepreneurial ecosystem?

The title of this post is the first sentence of the report published by the Kauffman foundation entitled Measuring an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem. And it is a critical question. For years, universities, cities, regions, countries try to assess if they are innovative and entrepreneurial enough. And unfortunately, this is often measured through inputs and not outputs. Sometimes for good reasons, because stakeholders can offer favorable conditions but in the end entrepreneurs perform and stakeholders help but do not act…

measuring_an_entrepreneurial_ecosystem

The Kauffman foundation is proposing a set of metrics to help in assessing your ecosystem. It is an ambitious proposal as these are not easy to obtain, but they look very interesting and I thought it would be worth describing them here. They are classified in 4 topics:

DENSITY

1- Number of new and young companies per 1,000 people,
where “young” can mean less than five or ten years old. This will tell you, in the most basic way, how the level of entrepreneurship changes over time relative to population.

2- Share of employment accounted for by new and young companies.
Entrepreneurial vibrancy should not just be measured by the number of companies — it also should include all the people involved in those companies. This will capture founders and employees.

3- Density of new and young companies in terms of specific sectors.
Some places already may have a particular economic sector that has been identified as the centerpiece of an ecosystem, such as “creative” industries or manufacturing. Again using population as a denominator.

FLUIDITY

4- Population flux, or individuals moving between cities or regions.
Entrepreneurial vibrancy means people both coming and going. From an ecosystem perspective, this means that the entrepreneurial environment must be fluid to enable entrepreneurs to engage. The obverse, of course, is that limits on fluidity will suppress entrepreneurial vibrancy.

5- Population flux within a given region.
Individuals also need to be able to find the right match with different jobs within a region. The pace at which they are able to move from job to job and between organizations should be an important indicator of vibrancy.

6- The number (and density) of high-growth firms,
which are responsible for a disproportionate share of job creation and innovation. A concentration of high-growth firms will indicate whether or not entrepreneurs are able to allocate resources to more productive uses. Importantly, high growth is not necessarily synonymous with high tech.

CONNECTIVITY

7- Connectivity with respect to programs, or resources, for entrepreneurs.
A vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem is not simply a collection of isolated elements — the connections between the elements matter just as much as the elements themselves. The diversity of your entrepreneurial population is likely to be high, and a one-stop shop for serving entrepreneurs is unlikely to do much good in serving all of them. Entrepreneurs move through an ecosystem, piecing together knowledge and assistance from different sources, and the connectivity of supporting organizations should help underpin the development of a strong entrepreneurial network.

8- Spinoff rate.
The entrepreneurial “genealogy” of a given region, as measured by links between entrepreneurs and existing companies, is an important indicator of sustained vibrancy.

9- “Dealmaker” network
Individuals with valuable social capital, who have deep fiduciary ties within regional economies and act in the role of mediating relationships, making connections and facilitating new firm formation play a critical role in a vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem.

DIVERSITY

10-Economic diversification,
an important concept because no city or region should be overly reliant on one particular industry. At a country level, research has shown that economic complexity is correlated with growth and innovation.

11- Attraction and assimilation of immigrants.
Historically, immigrants have a very high entrepreneurial propensity.

12- Economic mobility,
i.e. the probability of moving up or down the economic ladder between different income quintiles. The purpose is to improve the quality of life for your citizens, to expand opportunity, and to create a virtuous circle of opportunity, growth, and prosperity.

A Look Back at the Swiss February 9 Votation

Here is my regular column in Entreprise Romade. This time, the impact of the vote on February 9…

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So much has has been said and written about the impact of the vote on Feb. 9 on academic research and education, that I have hesitated before writing this column. Freezing of the exchange of students through the Erasmus + program and the access to ERC grants for top researchers; degradation to the rank of third country in the Horizon 2020 research programs. All this was well explained and should be known to those who are or feel concerned. Foretold disaster or major constraint to which Switzerland will adapt through its own genius, the future only will tell. Finally, the people are sovereign and the concerns expressed trhough the vote are fairly shared, in Europe and even in the USA. Europe suffers probably more than Switzerland and our neighbors have shown their misunderstanding rather than frustration.

So I will just try to illustrate here the reasons for my sadness. A simple anecdote to start: I arrived at EPFL in 2004. The first file on which I worked was the project of a young Spanish student, Pedro Bados. He had just finished his master’s thesis as part of an exchange program and his work had produced some nice results. These results were patented, and the student turned into an entrepreneur when he founded NEXThink which today has about one hundred employees. The start-up, which is headquartered on the EPFL campus, is supported in part by foreign capital due to the weakness of the Swiss venture capital scene.

Mr. Blocher had told Radio Suisse Romande he did not believe in big European projects that do not work. It is true that innovation can not be planned and very clever is the one who can predict the future. But Pedro’s innovation is real however and simply would not have existed without Erasmus. NEXThink is not the only Swiss company founded by a migrant. Biocartis has raised over CHF 250 million and its founder Rudi Pauwels, is Belgian. He is a “serial entrepreneur” who had come to seek inspiration at EPFL after a first success. More than three quarters of the spin-off EPFL have foreign founders, and half are European.

Another anecdote: Switzerland is a model for its neighbors in academic matters and for its innovation performance. Many universities and representatives from European regions visit the EPFL campus. For six months, I have been working on a project with three other European technological universities on high-tech entrepreneurship. Without accepting the intiative on mass immigration, we would have been the project leader of an exchange program for entrepreneurs. We will not be better than a third country and I can not work with my Swiss colleagues from the private sector who have a good knowledge in the internationalization of entrepreneurship. We will adapt…

The problem is not so much economic as Switzerland contributed largely to the funding of these programs. It is human. In a recent debate in Neuchatel, Peter Brabeck, chairman of Nestlé, said: “75% of people working in Switzerland in our research and development teams are foreigners; this vote is creating a lot of uncertainty for them. But I can assure you of one thing: Nestlé will not lose a single one of its scientists. But Switzerland perhaps. Because if I do not have the right to employ them in Switzerland, so I will have them work elsewhere on their projects” [1]. Novartis had already made long ago the choice to open a research center in Boston. On a smaller scale, HouseTrip, a recent success story from the Lausanne Hospitality School, moved to London, because of the lack of local talents.

Last anecdote: I arrived in Switzerland in 1998 and the process of obtaining my work permit took more than six months…; it was not an easy arrival. The entry into force of the bilateral agreements, in 2002, certainly simplified the decision of Pedro Bados to create his start-up in Switzerland; no doubt. I have no idea how future young foreign entrepreneurs will experience our new situation. Switzerland will probably adapt here too! But I do not see who wins anything at complicating the arrival of talents whereas they leave very easily.

I finish on a more symbolic dimension by quoting a participant in another debate on the subject [2]: “And to return to the question of research, EPFL has not only research capacity, it has a serious mission in training. I’m an engineer and I am amazed to see that the very notion of engineer is disappearing when the EPFL is now staking everything on biotechnology. I’d like to see EPFL still train people how to build bridges.” If the academic world has been so little audible despite its attempts, it is perhaps because it is not as well liked as you might think. Switzerland does not like elitism. One prefers established SMEs to start-ups, which do not make people dream as in Silicon Valley and pension funds do not support the venture capital. When I attended a selection committee of promising young people, I heard the jury member smile while indicating that only 2-3% of Swiss students benefited from Erasmus and if it was for them to live what describes the movie “L’Auberge Espagnole” (The Spanish Inn), this may not be so bad. Yet high-tech entrepreneurship also concerns only 2-3% of our students. Scarcity and elitism, I think, are more important than you think.

EPFL did not stop training specialists of concrete or mechanical structures. Academic research has even improved the quality and cost of bridges. But the world is changing too. Bioengineering, computer science are promising and future innovations in these disciplines will be much larger than those that improve our bridges and tunnels. One does not need to be a genius to understand this. Except if we have lost faith in science and technology? I can tell you that Asia and America have not lost that confidence. Would Switzerland be like Europe?

I understand that the initiators of the referendum are sticking to their positions and consider that the country’s problems were more important than the consequences thereof. Expressing a frustration in front of a Europe in crisis or a concern for the future is one thing. Minimizing the impact this will have on Switzerland seems to be a risky bet. I respect the decision, but I regret it… badly.

[1] http://www.arcinfo.ch/fr/regions/canton-de-neuchatel/a-neuchatel-le-president-de-nestle-peter-brabeck-s-inquiete-des-consequences-du-vote-du-9-fevrier-556-1271025

[2] Florence Despot on the RTS: http://www.rts.ch/info/dossiers/2014/les-consequences-du-vote-anti-immigration/5619927-playlist-immigration-suites.html?id=5598709

The Immigrant, Factor of Creation

Here was my last column in 2013 for Entreprise Romande, with a subject that is dear to me, the importance of migrants.

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The paths of innovation and entrepreneurship are paved with a myriad of dilemmas. Clayton Christensen a few years ago had explored the first topic in his Innovator’s Dilemma and last year Noam Wasserman has published the interesting Founder’s Dillemmas. The uncertainty of the market, youth vs. experience, disruptive vs. incremental innovation, the new vs. the established are just a few examples of these difficult choices. A more controversial and politically sensitive subject is the contribution of migrants and foreigners in the field of creation.

Just when he debate is growing in Europe as well as in Switzerland about the threat that would represent those who are different and come from elsewhere, it is perhaps worth remembering more positive elements about the importance of openness to outsiders. The Swiss history [1] reminds us that the watch industry is linked to the arrival of the Huguenots in the sixteenth century; a part of the textile industry in St. Gallen has its origin in England. There is also a French origin in the Basel chemical industry. Perhaps it interesting to recall that Christoph Blocher has distant German roots. But what about Nicolas Hayek, the savior of the watch industry, rocked by his Lebanese and French cultures.

Much further, Silicon Valley, the world champion of innovation and entrepreneurship, owes much to its migrants. Of course America is a land of pioneers, but the San Francisco area pushed the logic to an extreme. More than half of the entrepreneurs in this region are of foreign origin and for example Google, Yahoo, Intel had founders with foreign roots.

While Europe has a temptation of closing its doors due to its economic difficulties, in the United States, the Start-up Act 2.0 intends to streamline visas for foreigners and to regularize children of migrants to enable them to enter higher education. Japan was another major country for innovation a few decades ago nut it may have suffered from its low level of migration; the country is aging and has not really reinvented itself.

Switzerland is a land of migration, let us not forget it. This is one of its strengths. Today, the campus of EPFL and ETHZ have a great deal of students but also of researchers and teachers with foreign origin. The proportion increases much more if you focus on those who create businesses. For those who have received an entrepreneurial scholarship to EPFL, the proportion rises to 75% including 25 % of non-Europeans.

Would foreigners be more talented and creative? The answer is rather a larger experience of what is unknown and uncertain. Migrants have agreed to leave their homeland, sometimes leaving everything behind. And they know by experience that we can recover from this loss. They know well that it is always possible to start again and the fear of failure is reduced. He also learned to domesticate novelty. It should be added that a migrant has less access to established circles and is stuck by “glass ceilings”. They must often build they destiny. From this point of view, they do not take the jobs of anyone, they create new opportunities, that will become beneficial to others!

[1] http://histoire-suisse.geschichte-schweiz.ch/industrialisation-suisse.html

AnnaLee Saxenian, Migration, Silicon Valley, and Entrepreneurship.

Shame on me! How is it possible I mention so little AnnaLee Saxenian in this blog, as well as the importance of migrants in entrepreneurship? I had shortly mentioned Regional Advantage in Silicon Valley – more of the same?, but this was more about the openness of Silicon Valley culture and why it did a better job than the Boston area.

It might be because migration was a big feature of my book and nothing new came out thereafter even if the topic is of utmost importance. So let me address the topic of Immigrants again now. In her second book, published in 2006, The New Argonauts: Regional Advantage in a Global Economy Saxenian analyzed the importance of migrants in high-tech entrepreneurship, both for the USA and for the countries of origin of these migrants.

Saxeninan-TheNewArgonauts

In a related paper, she had written: “In the United States, discussions of the immigration of scientists and engineers have focused primarily on the extent to which foreign-born professionals displace native workers. The view from sending countries, by contrast, has been that the emigration of highly skilled personnel to the United States represents a big economic loss, a brain drain. Neither view is adequate in today’s global economy. Far from simply replacing native workers, foreign-born engineers are starting new businesses and generating jobs and wealth at least as fast as their U.S. counterparts. And the dynamism of emerging regions in Asia and elsewhere now draws skilled immigrants homeward. Even when they choose not to return home, they are serving as middlemen linking businesses in the United States with those in distant regions.” [Brain Circulation: How High-Skill Immigration Makes Everyone Better Off – 2002 – http://www.brookings.edu/research/articles/2002/12/winter-immigration-saxenian] In the end, she added: “Essentially, the new argonauts are people who have learned the Silicon Valley model, usually by doing graduate work in the U.S. and getting absorbed into the Silicon Valley boom. They marinated in the Silicon Valley culture and learned it. This really began in the late ‘80s for the Israelis and Taiwanese, and not until the late ‘90s or even the beginning of the ‘00s for the Indians and Chinese. They began to realize that they could take advantage of their own personal networks in their home countries to provide skill that was scarce in the Valley, and that they could even go home and start businesses there that would tap their old networks. Usually, they were going home and tapping their undergraduate colleagues or their friends from the military, in the case of Israel. They knew and they understood how to work the institutions and the culture of those places, often the language too, better than anyone else in the world.”

From the New Argonauts, I will take only two small paragraphs: “Graduating classes from the elite engineering program at National Taiwan University, for example, came to the United States in the 1980s, as did a majority of engineering and computer science graduates from the prestigious Indian Institutes of Technology. Technical universities from smaller countries like Ireland and Israel also report large proportions of graduates leaving to study in the United States, although their numbers are too small to show up in the aggregate data. [Page 50]

Now the depressing argument! “The technical elite in countries like France and Japan move automatically into high-status positions at the top of the large corporations or the civil service. They have little incentive to study or work abroad, and often face significant opportunity costs if they do. As a result, relatively few pursue graduate education in the United States, and those who do often return home directly after graduation. Those who end up in Silicon Valley for a period are not likely to gain access to capital, professional opportunities, or respect when they return home.” [Page 333]

Saxenian has a long history on the topic. She began in 1999 when she published Silicon Valley’s New Immigrant Entrepreneurs. In two related studies, Saxenian and colleagues had a much deeper quantitative analysis. These were America’s New Immigrant Entrepreneurs in 2007 by Vivek Wadhwa, AnnaLee Saxenian, Ben Rissing, and Gary Gereffi; it was updated in 2012 in America’s New Immigrant Entrepreneurs: – Then and Now written by Vivek Wadhwa, AnnaLee Saxenian and F. Daniel Siciliano.

America-New-Immigrants

There is one table I had used in my book which I found striking: Europe has many Silicon Valley migrants as shown below. But we have not been capable (yet) of using them fruitfully as Asia did. We only begin…
Europe sees the value of migration (still only one way, attracting talent) and hopefully we will benefit from accepting the lessons…

The New Silicon Valley(s)

Nice series on French-speaking Swiss Radio broadcast les Temps Modernes, this week about five stimulating experiments of high-tech clusters. Probably to fight the depressing mood around WEF and the economic crisis. (And not only because I was given the opportunity this morning to comment the last case! I was only invited on Wednesday… 🙂 )

Monday it was about Russia’s Skolkovo, which I had mentioned in a post a few months ago.

I did not know at all Kenya’s Konza, and this was really refreshing.

You cannot avoid China, but here also surprise, surprise, it was not Shanghai neither Shenzhen, but Zhongguancun.


I had heard of Startup Chile, because Stanford supports the experiment in South America.

Finally, I could comment the stimulating British case, the Silicon Roundabout, in East London. You can listen to or download the mp3 file (in French).

A spontaneous emerging cluster, a name given by a local entrepreneur, no real support by decision makers, at least in the beginning and a nice and enthusiastic atmosphere. And all this attracts people from abroad. Is this finally the cluster Europe has been waiting for? We shall see… The experiment is really interesting and if you want to know more, you may wish to read (French) Le Monde, Le “Silicon Roundabout”, un succès britannique, or The Economist, Silicon Roundabout.