An open, sharing culture is good for the startup ecosystem

I had an interesting meeting this morning with two-time-entrepreneur turned Berkeley, Duke and Harvard based academic, Vivek Wadhwa who has a keen interest in understanding and promoting entrepreneurialism and startups.  You can find some of his recent posts on Techcrunch here.

We were talking about the history of the US startup scene and he described how in the 1980s Boston and the Valley were more or less on a par, but now, as we know, there is far more activity here in CA (where I have been this week).  He told me about some research into why Boston had failed to keep up which came up with three reasons that explained the difference:

  • The Valley’s open, sharing culture works better for startups than the more secretive formality on the East Coast
  • Many more immigrants from India, and to a lesser extent China, headed for the Valley
  • The Valley has better and stronger networks, the most prominent of which is TIE

Anyone who reads this blog regularly or who has talked with me or heard me speak will know I’m a cheerleader for the London and European startup and venture scene.  There are still far fewer startups in Europe than over here, but the gap is closing and for many companies, particularly the best companies, it isn’t too much of a stretch to say that the same levels of finance and support are now available on both sides of the Atlantic.

I’m very interested in the things that will help close the gap more quickly, particularly now in late 2009 after the recession has knocked everyone’s confidence a little, which is why I picked up on Vivek’s comments above.  The default culture in much of the UK and Europe is more secretive than sharing, I think that is changing, but it could always change more quickly.  I often find myself saying that if you tell ten people about your idea there is a much greater chance of finding someone who will help you than of getting your idea ripped off.  Similarly obscurity is a much greater risk for most startups than having their idea stolen.

Sharing, of course, happens within networks and their events and parties, both formal and informal.  So my final point here is to say kudos to all the folk in the UK and Europe who make this happen.  Singling out a few names Mike Butcher of Techcrunch, Saul Klein with Seedcamp, Andy and Ali of Huddle with DrinkTank, Sam at Chinwag, Simon Grice with Mashup and Mark Littlewood with his BLN dinners and Robert Loch with a variety events over the years have been key to bringing everyone together and putting us on the trajectory we want to be on (please forgive me if your name isn’t on this list, it isn’t supposed to be exhaustive).  We can’t have too much of this.

  • Hey, glad your trip has been going well. Interested in this subject as you know and almost fell of my chair to be mentioned – how very nice of you. Much appreciated. Agree with you on this although I think we have a very long way to go before London/UK/Europe can be considered anything like as open as the Valley. I would be really interested in your take on some small steps we can make having just been over. Would love to catch up for a coffee and download – value your insight.

    We are making progress in the UK although progress can be frustratingly slow. So many people seem to have a vested interest in keeping networks closed for their own benefit rather than genuinely opening them up. Some great stories on that by the way I have heard recently. God knows it is hard to strike a balance between being open and maintaining quality of people – and don't get me started on why there are not more women engaged at the highest level of the ecosystem (but I don't think it is just down to sexism).

    Heads up on an event we are running in Cambridge on 21st November for CEOs of web and Cleantech companies. We have got some slots for selected CEOs to meet founders of (confidentially), Twitter (Biz Stone!!), Zynga (Marc Pincus!!), Flickr, Paypal, Linkedin, Serious Materials, The Carbon War Room and Green Volts. If you want to put some CEOs forward, send them this way. I cannot guarantee they will get in – we are running the selection competitively and visitors will be consulted on who they want to see. Check out the Silicon Valley comes to Cambridge CEO Workshops at http://thebln.com/events/

    Would be good to get together for a gossip and would love to pick your brains on opening up the ecosystem. Family away next week so if you are in town, am around on Tuesday and Thursday and could do evening if you were around if that worked.

    Travel well.

    Mark.

  • Interested in this subject as you know and almost fell of my chair to be mentioned – how very nice of you. Much appreciated. Agree with you on this although I think we have a very long way to go before London/UK/Europe can be considered anything like as open as the Valley.