We need different kinds of Silicon Valley not more Silicon Valleys

Here in the mexican border city of Tijuana there’s been constant discussion about how to collaborate with our next door neighbor San Diego. I’ve actually been advocating for this myself by co-founding Startup Weekend here a few years ago and also by arranging partnerships with partners in San Diego and a client in Tijuana to provide a service where co-working spaces in San Diego and Tijuana create a type of pass for their members where anyone can arrive at any participating co-working space; free of charge.

These initiatives were done with the intent of stimulating cross-border collaboration between entrepreneurs, but it hasn’t been without its challenges.

Anyway, a few weeks ago I attended a local conference about Silicon Valley and San Diego as innovation ecosystems. Tijuana, like San Diego, is creating an entrepreneurial ecosystem to call their own but an ongoing challenge is that the conversation always ends up with Silicon Valley as a model to follow.

I always tell them how everyone wants to be a Silicon Valley, but it can’t be replicated as is. Everyone seems to agree, but then they go back to it. One very important reason why it can’t be replicated is Silicon Valley has forged a narrative that appeals to a certain type of identity. A narrative where failure does not mean the end of the world, but rather something that builds character. This narrative is what has to be embraced, along with the support mechanisms, in non-Silicon Valley regions.

And from my viewpoint those who want to build the next Silicon Valley, frankly, don’t walk the talk. Tijuana is one of them. Like companies that create rewards and innovation programs to stimulate discussion and innovation, in Tijuana there are many “innovation activities”; but it’s just activity.

Similarly, around the world there are Silicon Valley wannabes in most modern cities, all with a focus on technology. There is nothing wrong with focusing on technology, what is wrong is that these cities want to compete with Silicon Valley for investment dollars.Yes, there will be outliers that do get some investment dollars from prominent Valley investors because we live in a globalized economy, but it will be ventures that shake the foundations of existing business models.

Most Silicon Valley wannabes attract local entrepreneurs who want to create localized versions of Uber and Groupon, for example. They are pure copycat plays, and that is what most ecosystems are breeding.

A different kind of Silicon Valley

A week before the conference, I attended the launch of a new initiative aimed at aligning the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Tijuana called “Emprende Tijuana”. Frankly, it isn’t a big deal because it really is more of the same. Just to give you an idea, while I was sitting there listening to the announcements, I told a buddy of mine that Seoul wants to become the epicenter of the Sharing Economy. Our conversation shifted immediately after I said that . Why, I asked, does Tijuana want to become another Silicon Valley?

Apparently people in the front overheard me and the speaker stopped his speech to see what was going on. People sitting next to me started asking me questions, pretty soon I had a mob around me. I posed a simple question: what’s more exciting, wanting to be another Silicon Valley or creating your own identity?

Just like there will only be one Michael Jackson, the next Silicon Valley will always be Silicon Valley. Every region has their own strengths and weaknesses, most will focus on their strengths. And what is really interesting is creating new strengths, which is what Seoul is doing by lowering barriers to entry for “sharing” focused businesses that are being alienated elsewhere.

I believe that there should be niche Silicon Valley’s for robotics, biotech, currencies, internet of things, film-making, etc.. This is a strategy that is open to everyone, but must be taken; just like Seoul.

A few years ago I wrote about how there should be funds focused on companies that innovate in management, not technology. You see, most people are not fully engaged with their work. This means that there is untapped innovation potential because companies treat their employees like replaceable cogs in the system. This is another area of innovation that is available to any type of company, and that is very difficult to imitate.

I’m proud to say that here in Tijuana there is a management innovator of the highest order, but as such is an anomaly that no one dares try to imitate.

Bottom line: Yes, there are many lessons that we can take from Silicon Valley and apply elsewhere. But let’s not focus on creating the next Silicon Valley, but rather something completely different from the Valley.

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