Tag Archives: Silicon Valley and Europe

The Dream of Silicon Valley

This is my translation (well Google translation) of a very good article I read in newspapers La Tribune de Genève (pdf here) and 24 heures (pdf here). I am not sure I have the rights to do such a transaltion. I will do it the Google was and hopefully the news papers will not complain…

If you do not want to read it all, here are just two short quotes: “Some explain the excitement that prevails here because of a feeling of urgency, says Christian Simm. We must go quickly, people know they cannot work 80 hours a week for twenty years.” and
“You want to know the secret of Silicon Valley? asks Fadi Bishara, head of the incubator Blackbox. Failure is not an issue. It is completely accepted. It is even considered an apprenticeship.”

The Dream of Silicon Valley
Can the Lake Geneva area reproduce the ecosystem of the U.S. technology hub ?
by Renaud Bournoud

Often imitated, never equaled. The famous ecosystem of Silicon Valley, near San Francisco, is one of the most dynamic regions of the world. The success stories of Google, Apple and Facebook continue to fascinate, even on the Lake Geneva. But on paper, this Eldorado for innovation has much in common with our region. In a similar geographic area, a large bean sixty kilometers long, the two countries are ranked in the world’s most successful regions. If Silicon Valley is based on the prestigious universities of Stanford and Berkeley, the Lake Geneva can count on the EPFL, the Universities of Geneva and Lausanne or the IMD, the High School of Management. In both cases, the density of highly qualified people is high. Even daily commuters from Silicon Valley experience the discomfort that we know well . They also wait for hours in traffic jams. U.S. Highway 101, which irrigates the valley is as congested as the A1, between Lausanne and Geneva. Housing is also a concern that we share with them. The real estate prices are well above the U.S. average and have nothing to envy to those on Lake Geneva. So what are the ingredients that make Silicon Valley so special?

SV-24h

Demographic factors

A century ago, the orange groves reigned as kings over this corner of California. Now the land has nearly four million people. More broadly, the population of the San Francisco Bay is the size of that of Switzerland. The presence of reputable universities brings a lot of talent, as well as the attraction of the region. Silicon Valley Community Foundation considers that 60% of the engineers were born abroad, many of whom are from Asia. But the valley also attracts many Americans. “Here we are at the extreme west of the United States. We cannot go further, says Christian Simm, founder of Swissnex (note: the Swiss Agency for Promotion of Science and Innovation) in San Francisco. People who consider Boston too quiet come here to create. Because everything seems possible.” This density of great talent pool is ideal for company recruitment. A startup like Square, active in payment systems, could recruit 600 programmers in less than four years. This would not necessarily be feasible in the Lake Geneva region. These people have often come alone and can concentrate fully on their work. “Some explain the excitement that prevails here because of a feeling of urgency, says Christian Simm. We must go quickly, people know they cannot work 80 hours a week for twenty years.”

Cultural factors

A they arrived alone in Silicon Valley, people are quite willing to meet others, creating a culture of networking. Many networking events are regularly organized, like the Start Up Weekends. They also exist here, but in smaller proportions, simply because the population and the number of start-ups are lower. “It makes it easy to find a partner to build a startup,” says Ahmed Siddiqui, one of the organizers of Start Up Weekends Bay Area. “Here the world lives around the field of technology , explains Alexandre Gonthier, the boss of PayWithMyBank in Redwood City. I met my partner at the playground where I watched my children.” Not only can we can find a future partner in the sandbox, it is also easy to cross the pundits of Silicon Valley at random from a barbecue party. They are available and are ready to play mentors for younger people. “It is not as easy to meet bosses in Europe … Unless they learn that you are installed in Silicon Valley. There, the doors open,” notes Alexandre Gonthier. Contacts are natural, and the mentality towards failure also has a role. “You want to know the secret of Silicon Valley? asks Fadi Bishara, head of the incubator Blackbox. Failure is not an issue. It is completely accepted. It is even considered an apprenticeship.” And if the project does not fail, it will soon be on the market. “The minimum viable product” is the leitmotif of the Silicon Valley. “We need to create something simple that you can use right away,” says Solomon Dykes, the founder of the start-up Dotdoud in San Francisco. “I would add that the idea is not very important, Fadi Bishara continues. Googje invented nothing, there were already search engines. What matters is the “packaging”, how the project is sold.” It’s the reason why storytelling is used a lot to sell. These stories also serve to develop an entrepreneurial spirit. Many myths have grown from Silicon Valley. There is the famous story about the birth of startups in garages. Like, for exampl , Google, which had rented a garage, whereas it had already raised $ 1 million.

Financial factors

Good idea or not, nothing is possible without money. The region of Silicon Valley attracts 46% of venture capital in the United States, according to the Bay Area Council Economic Institute. This happens especially much earlier in the development of projects than here.” If, after a year , the start -up has not found funding , we believe that we need to move on,” adds Jeff Burton , director of Skydesk , an incubator located on the Berkeley campus . “For us, the institutional money comes much later, said Joao Antonio Brinca, representative of BCV board at the Foundation for Technological Innovation in Lausanne. Financing through venture capital funds typically occurs between the fifth and seventh year of the project life. “The sums involved are not the same. A young company of Lake Geneva can hopee to raise between 300,000 and 600,000 francs for its first round of funding. In Silicon Valley it is at least twice. So there is a gap between the first efforts of startups to exit the academic world and the interests of investors . This longer period may explain the difficulty of transforming research into marketable products. Another advantage of Silicon Valley is its close proximity maintained between universities and private firms. In this regard, the Lake Geneva is still lagging behind. But it would be wrong to say that nothing is done about it. EPFL has worked in recent years to attract firms in the area of innovation, so that they mingle with the start-ups. But again, the structures of the same type that abound in Silicon Valley are favored by the scale. The density of start-ups produces a unique emulation world. Also keep in mind the economy of scale to explain this difference. A U.S. start -up happens in a domestic market of 320 million potential customers. In Switzerland, an emerging company has to deal with a much smaller market, divided into three languages and twenty- six cantons.

This article was produced as part of a tour organized by BCV for ten young Vaudois.

Atlantic Drift – Venture capital performance in the UK and the US

A new report on venture capital brings interesting conclusions and updates. Here is the summary that you can also fidn on the Nesta web site:

1. The returns performance of UK and US VC funds in recent years has been very similar. UK funds have historically underperformed US funds, but this gap has significantly narrowed. The gap in fund returns (net IRR) between the average US and UK fund has fallen from over 20 percentage points before the dotcom bubble (funds raised in 1990-1997) to one percentage point afterwards (funds raised in 1998-2005). However, this convergence has been driven by declining returns in the US after the burst of the dotcom bubble, rather than by increasing returns in the UK. Average returns for funds raised after the bubble in both the UK and the US have been relatively poor, but VC performance is likely to move upwards as VC funds start to cash out their investments in social networks (particularly in the US).

2. The wider environment in which UK funds and the companies they finance operate was a major contributor to the historical gap in VC returns. While there are some large differences in the observable characteristics of VC funds between both countries, they cannot account for the historical returns gap.

3. Average returns obscure the large variability in returns within countries. The dispersion in returns across funds was highest during the pre-bubble years, and has fallen significantly since then. But in both periods the gap in returns between good and bad performing funds within a country was much larger than the gap in the average returns across countries. Thirteen per cent of UK funds established since 1990, would have got into the top quartile of US funds by returns (this has increased to 22 per cent for funds established in the post bubble period), while 45 per cent of UK funds outperformed the median US fund. Selecting the right fund manager is thus more important than choosing a particular country.

4. The strongest quantifiable predictors of VC returns performance are

(a) whether the fund managers’ prior funds outperform the market benchmark;

(b) whether the fund invests in early rounds;

(c) whether the fund managers have prior experience; and

(d) whether the fund is optimally sized (neither too big nor too small).

Moreover, historical performance has been higher for funds located in one of the four largest investor hubs (Silicon Valley, New York, Massachusetts and London) and for investments in information and communication technology.

5. UK government-backed funds have historically underperformed their private counterparts, but the gap between public and private returns has narrowed in recent periods. This suggests that in later years governments have become savvier when designing new VC schemes.

Most US funds have traditionally only invested locally, with less than a third of US funds raised between 1990 and 2005 having invested in one or more companies outside the US. In contrast, the majority of European funds have invested outside of their home market.

The situation has changed somewhat in recent times. A higher proportion of European funds raised in 2006-2009 have chosen to invest locally while US-based funds are becoming more global. As a result, the proportion of European VC capital being invested in the US has halved, falling to 10 per cent, and a slightly larger share of US VC capital is coming to Europe.

Overall, this analysis suggests that Europe does not offer an attractive proposition to US VC funds. Europe has a less developed VC market than the US, so attracting US funds (their money but also, crucially, their expertise) ought to benefit European economies. Instead, the opposite is happening. A much larger share of European VC funds invest in the US than the other way around. While Europe is likely to benefit from its funds investing in the US (for the returns it provides, the network it builds and the experience it generates), the small flow in the opposite direction is a cause for concern.

In conclusion

– The global venture capital industry is concentrated in very few hubs (and does not exist in a vacuum)

– The convergence in returns is not the result of changes in the characteristics of UK funds

– Small funds underperform medium sized funds, but larger is not always better

– More experienced fund managers achieved higher returns

– Past performance predicts future performance

– Funds in investor hubs had better returns

Investing in earlier rounds leads to better performance

– But much of the variability in returns is not explained by these factors

Finally some advice on Policy:

Remember venture capital activity does not exist in a vacuum.

Resist the temptation to overengineer public support schemes

Avoid initiatives that are too small.

I also found interesting two figures:

Start-up Soldier vs. Start-Up Hero

I just discovered a Techcrunch post about “Silicon Envy”. It’s entitled Is the search for the Startup Hero holding back startup teams?

There is a lot of interesting content and if you have the time, listen to the full roundtable. It’s a good summary of our current or maybe complexity crisis. I do not agree with all arguments, for example the ones saying Europe is weak because of regulations. I believe it’s cultural. But probably, regulations change culture over the long term.

I noticed the usual-suspect arguments:
– You need a culture of rivalry and competition.
– You need money which means smart capital.
– We need an education to build (products and companies) not only academic skills.
– You need to be international from day one and not local only, so do not be modest. The topic of language was seen as much as an asset as a liability for Europe.

Esther Dyson is quite convincing in our need for the skills to build company. “In Europe, your mother tells you to work for SAP or Coca Cola.” Then she added it’s easy to create a 5-people company but it is tough to scale to 1’000 and there you need middle managers and skills. You may read Esther Dyson directly in her own post The Dangerous Myth of the Hero Entrepreneur. As important, Esther Dyson shows it is a complex topic.

As she nicely wrote in her post:
“But there are two benefits that do redound to a hero entrepreneur’s home country. First, the local entrepreneur serves as a role model. He (rarely she) encourages people to dream – and also to take risks, persist in the face of long odds, and generate economic activity.
(…)
Yet sometimes I think this hero-entrepreneur myth is dangerous. In an economy such as the United States, where start-ups are revered, people who would make perfectly good project supervisors or salespeople establish their own companies, starving the ecosystem of middle managers. Thousands of perfectly smart and highly useful people feel inadequate because they are not heroes. Many make the wrong career choices in search of glory.
(…)
In cultures where start-ups are considered risky and not quite honorable, it’s also hard for entrepreneurs to find troops to play the non-starring roles. Most people would rather work for an established company, or for the government.
So, rather than focusing on the supposed shortage of entrepreneurs, consider for a moment the very real shortage of qualified people willing to work for them.”