An interview with Munya Chivasa, Head of the Merck Accelerator

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An interview with Munya Chivasa, Head of the Merck Accelerator

Munya Chivasa has been Head of the Merck Accelerator Program since it was founded by Merck in 2015. The program invites international startups to the Merck Innovation Center, at the company’s headquarters in Darmstadt, and supports them in the development of their businesses with the clear objective of partnering up with Merck.

Hi Munya, Silicon Vikings is very excited about partnering with Merck to make your accelerator more accessible to Nordic and Baltic startups! To start with, we’d love to hear about why Merck launched the Accelerator?

Hi, thanks for having me! The Merck Accelerator was founded with the aim of partnering up with startups and breathing some new entrepreneurial life into the 350 year-old Merck corporation. From the very beginning, the plan has been to promote sustainable partnerships with startups, which is why we offer guidance every step of the way - even after the program’s three-month duration has ended. Once startups have graduated from the Accelerator, we continue to look out for points where they can connect with Merck and the Accelerator: whether this involves Merck becoming one of the startup’s clients, or as a technology development partner or even sharing a stage at leading industry events, we at Merck are always keen to keep in touch.

We hear the Merck Accelerator is specifically looking for startups in the Nordic-Baltic area. Why is that?

Yes, we are. With such a dynamic startup scene in the Nordic-Baltic area, we know that Nordic-Baltic startups have a lot to bring to the table. Just take a look at what’s going on in places like Finland - with huge startup events like Slush - or Estonia, which is producing more startups per capital than any other country in Europe. It’s this kind of innovative spirit that makes Nordic-Baltic startups so exciting.

What kind of startups are you looking for?

We are looking for startups in the fields of Healthcare, Performance Materials, Life Science and other related fields like Clean Meat, Liquid Biopsy and Bio-Sensing & Interfaces with full-time dedication to their project. This is important to build successful collaboration and allow startups to find in Merck a partner with which they can make their first deals from the very first moment.

And what was it that attracted you to work at the Innovation Center?

Ever since its founding in 1668, Merck has been a world leader in Healthcare, Life Science and Performance Materials. I loved the idea of working for a company that is both 350 years old and on the cutting edge of innovation. When I saw the role at the Innovation Center advertised, I thought: “great, here’s an opportunity for me to get my hands dirty in an industry that’s innovative and forward-looking.” And I wasn’t wrong. I’ve learned a lot at a fast pace - no two days at work are the same.

You’ve mentioned Merck’s experts - what exactly does the Merck Accelerator expert-network look like?

We’re one big, happy family. But seriously, we kind of are! Merck’s network stretches across the globe, with over 50,000 experts in 66 countries. At the core of the Accelerator is a series of ideational mentoring sessions, so our network is tied in very closely with this aspect of the program. It might sound cliché, but the Merck network really does foster exchange and mutual support. We host regular events series such as the Innovators’ Club where attendees can hear keynote speeches on the latest news and trends in the innovation world, network, and swap business ideas. The location of the impressive and brand-new Innovation Center on-site at the Merck Headquarters in Darmstadt means that it has become a hub for Merck experts, Accelerator startups and alumni.

Apart from this network, could you tell us what kind of benefits you give to businesses that come into the Merck Accelerator?

As I’ve already mentioned, startups participating in our three-month program benefit from tailored mentoring sessions from our international network of experts. They can also make use of the Innovation Center’s high tech and rapid prototyping labs facilities such as the Makerspace and receive funding of up to €50,000. For the first time, we’ll also be offering next year’s intake of startups the opportunity to extend their stay in Merck’s China Innovation Hub in Shanghai. I truly believe this kind of support is vital in today’s business environment. Money-only based, short-term support from investors is no longer an option for startups looking to stay around long-term in a world full of competition and challenges.

How are startups from your previous intakes doing now?

We are proud to say that our Alumni of over 40 teams over the last 3years have continued to grow and gain traction within their respective markets. We are especially proud that at least 5 teams still have projects in development with Merck and we even decided to take equity in one of the teams

What kind of entrepreneurial experience do the Merck Accelerator mentors have?

We have a diverse group of Mentors from both within the company and outside. Our external mentors are entrepreneurs in their own right having founded a startup from various industries from IoT to biotechnology. From within the company some of the mentors are business unit heads with P & L responsibilities and some of the expert mentors have or are going through an Intrapreneurial journey of their own within the Merck Innovation Ecosystem

What’s your role within the Innovation Center, in a nutshell?

I head the Accelerator Program and along with the rest of my team am responsible for search and recruitment of promising startups to connect the innovation ecosystem within Merck.

If someone was reading this and thinking they’d like to apply for the startup accelerator, what advice would you give them?

Apply! It’s a brilliant program and applications for the upcoming program in 2019 are open until the 30th of September, so we can say we are already in the final stretch.

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Silicon Vikings Partners with Merck Accelerator to Bring More Opportunities to Nordic Startups

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Silicon Vikings Partners with Merck Accelerator to Bring More Opportunities to Nordic Startups

Looking for a Partner?

Merck Accelerator Helps You Achieve Your Next Big Bang

Your startup needs a boost to bring it to the next level? If you’re operating in the fields of Life science, Healthcare, Performance Materials or additional search fields like Bio-Sensing and Interfaces, partnering up with Merck might be the solution. Never heard of Merck or their Accelerator? If you’re curious, want to gain access to worldwide experts and even to the Chinese market, you’ll find all the detailed information right here.

How the Merck Accelerator Works

Startups from all over the world can apply for the three month program via the Accelerator’s website. The program, which runs once a year and takes place in Darmstadt, Germany, has a clear goal: offering startups the opportunity to partner with Merck. Merck welcomes a range of teams in its brand new Innovation Center at the Merck headquarters. The teams receive funding of up to €50,000  as well as working space, mentoring from Merck’s Senior Management, and tailored coaching sessions from a network of 50,000 experts and Merck Accelerator alumni. Next year, for the first time, selected startups will have the chance to extend their stay in the Merck Innovation Hub in China.

So far, over 40 different startups have successfully participated in the Accelerator and developed their ideas. The variety in startups is huge: from those working on technology that detects malaria, to drones that improve the medical supply chain, to printed electronics. If you’d like to see an overview of the kind of startups the Merck Accelerator has already partnered up with, click here. This year, in recognition of the growing startup scene in the Nordic-Baltic region, Merck is looking for new talents here.

Where the Accelerator Comes From

In one sentence: The Merck Accelerator is a partner who wants to shape the future with you. These may sound like big words, but there’s something behind them: Merck is one of the world’s leading companies in Healthcare, Life Science and Performance Materials. Merck is also the world's oldest pharmaceutical and chemical company and has been working to advance innovation ever since its founding in 1668. Around 53,000 employees work with us to develop technologies that improve and enhance life - these include anything from liquid crystals, to biopharmaceutical therapies as cancer treatments, to cutting-edge systems for scientific research and production.

As startup talents are the driving force behind innovation, the Merck Accelerator was founded in 2015 with the aim of partnering Merck up with startups. In exchange for their entrepreneurial spirit, Merck wants to share its vast experience with startup teams and build future businesses together.

Not Just Acceleration But Strong, Sustainable Partnerships

Since quick, money-only based support doesn’t help startups in the long term, the Merck Accelerator focuses on sustainable partnerships. The program’s key lies in its ideation coaching and mentoring sessions. Additionally, after the program’s three months are up, the partnership doesn’t end: Merck continues to look for connecting points to maintain its close relationship to startups. Whether it’s by becoming a client, as was the case for the alumni Ectica Technologies (read more here), or sharing a stage on leading industry events, Merck is always on the lookout for opportunities to stay in touch.

Enter the Chinese Market

In today’s world, markets are connected, and the Merck Accelerator wants to offer its participants the best international opportunities. Startups will have access to a pool of experts from 66 different countries, so regardless of the target market, there will be at least one expert that can help. Nevertheless, China is without doubt a market with huge potential for young startups operating in the tech, Healthcare, Life Science or Performance Materials industries. From our own experience, we understand the value of having a partner that’s already settled in China before even entering the market, especially since many regulations and processes are completely different. For this reason, the Merck Accelerator offers chosen participants the chance to extend their participation in the program by joining Merck’s China Innovation Hub in Shanghai.

If getting accelerated and winning a worldwide leader as a partner sound appealing to you may want to take your chance and apply for the Merck Accelerator before the application period is over.

 

 

 

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Beyond Tech-Driven Smart Cities

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Beyond Tech-Driven Smart Cities

By Eilif Trondsen, PhD, Chair of Special Interest Group on Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Learning

 

A few weeks back, I got an unusual request. A Norwegian friend, who brings groups of professionals to Silicon Valley, for “educational and inspirational tours” (or perhaps what some of us, who frequently get invitations to speak to such groups, refer to as “techno tourism”) asked me to speak on the topic of “smart cities and learning.”

Over the last half a dozen years or more, I have seen lots of articles on “smart cities” as growing number of technology providers—including Cisco, IBM, Oracle and many others—as well as big data, sensors and analytics providers, and, of course, anyone doing urban design and planning, are active players in the business of “smart cities.” And since no city wants to be a “dumb city”, growing number of cities around the world are now trying to figure out how to leverage emerging tech (especially AI, machine learning, the latest sensor tech, software analytics, etc) to make cities run more smoothly and become more livable and inviting for current and future residents.

But what intrigued me about my friend’s request was not the “smart city” part but the learning part, as the intersection of learning and tech is what I have spent many years exploring and trying to understand—and still trying to figure out! The combination of smart cities and learning, in particular, got me thinking and I took this as a challenge and therefore agreed to speak to the 25-strong group of visitors from Oslo.

Next-Generation Smart Cities

Since virtually all cities want to be a smart city, and are working on some kind of smart city initiative—mostly focused on how to use the latest and coolest technologies around—the first question I asked myself when thinking about the visiting group from Oslo was: How can they differentiate themselves in this space, and how can they go beyond the tech focus, and instead focus on the PEOPLE elements of the smart city equation? And if they want to have a long-term, sustainable smart city project, doesn’t this require that the residents of the future smart city of Oslo become engaged in the project, and learn, i.e. become knowledgeable about what smart cities could bring in terms of new opportunities—and understand both benefits and costs of such a big initiative?

Based on this, I chose the following title for my presentation: Making Oslo the Learning Capital of the World: Next Generation Smart City. Since Silicon Valley is all about BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals)—which Wikipedia defines as “strategic business statement similar to a vision statement which is created to focus an organization on a single medium-long term organization-wide goal which is audacious, likely to be externally questionable, but not internally regarded as impossible”—I thought this would provide the visitors with an appropriate visionary goal and longer term perspective on their initiative.

Next-Generation Learning

When most people hear the term “learning” they immediately think of “education” and often think back to being bored stiff during teachers’/professors’ lectures on things which they as students often see as having little relevance for what they want to do or are passionate about. I therefore spent the first part of my presentation trying to get the visitors out of the “old classroom learning mindset” and think about why learning—going far beyond just formal (“education”) type of learning to include all forms of informal learning—is so important, and indeed critical, for anyone in today’s VUCA world (a world increasingly characterized by high degree of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity).

My two slides listing competencies that will become increasingly important for future success, especially in the workplace of the future, but even for having a successful life in general, drew in part on wise words from my good friend Jay Cross—who was always very focused on informal learning. And I challenged the visitors to think of ways in which they could integrate a wide range of projects into their smart city initiative that would draw in young people, perhaps in collaboration with companies, who could then gain these types of competencies via project-based learning that would engage them much more than traditional lectures.

Projects could also challenge companies—and their employees—to explore the future of smart cities, and engage in dialog and discussion around future trends affecting smart city design and implementation. Such projects, and workshops, could become ways to involve Oslo residents in thinking about what the future of Oslo, as a smart city, could and should look like and how it could and should work.

Why couldn’t smart city initiatives include projects that would take students outside their classrooms and perhaps focus on designing BMX or skateboarding parks that many young people want but very often don’t find in urban environments? Why not challenge them to brainstorm and come up with ideas for such projects, how to design them, seek funding and assistance from local companies, and document their work using modern project management tools, etc? These are the kinds of projects I have seen in my neighborhood of Cupertino and San Jose, and if these are not the things young people in Oslo want, find out what they do want and how they can make them happen, as part of smart city design.

Technologies Enabling Next-Generation Learning

Just like smart cities will be enabled by and will incorporate a wide range of (emerging) technologies, the same is true for learning. Yes, tech is no “silver bullet” for learning, and I am a strong believer in “hybrid” or “blended” learning, where a variety of modalities, including conversation and dialog among people (mediated by technology or not), will need to play a part. But in the new world we now live in—and described very well by two friends, Jeff Saperstein and Hunter Hastings, in their forthcoming book The Interconnected Individual—technology will offer unprecedented opportunities to connect with others, regardless of distance, and increasingly at no cost, using increasingly sophisticated platforms that enable not just communication but also tools for collaboration. These “interconnected individuals” will also have unprecedented ways in which to learn, in formal and informal ways, including via massively open online courses (MOOCs) offered by world-class experts from top universities around the world, with great opportunities to connect and communicate (via chat boards, for instance) with others anywhere in the world.

New tools and platforms, including the use of Augmented and Virtual Reality technologies (more on this in future blog posts), will open up new opportunities for more engaging and interesting ways of learning than just reading books, like what many of us were limited to when we grew up. All of this will offer opportunities for augmented connections, regardless of distance, that will enable new entrepreneurial opportunities. And combining these new kinds of learning opportunities with smart city initiatives could stimulate young people to see themselves as integral parts of the design and implementation of smart city projects and thus help ensure long terms sustainable success.

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Calling All Nordic Startups: Silicon Vikings Startup World Cup Nordic Competitions

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Calling All Nordic Startups: Silicon Vikings Startup World Cup Nordic Competitions

Silicon Vikings is partnering with Startup World Cup to bring the Silicon Vikings & Startup World Cup Regional Competitions to the Nordics. Regional competitions will be held in Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and Finland in February to April 2018. The deadline to apply for the Nordic Country Competitions is:

Norway: Feb 12th

Sweden: Feb 12th

Finland: March 19th

Denmark: March 19th

 

 Apply Here

One Winner from each of these country competitions will be invited to compete in the Startup World Cup 2018 Grand Finale Global Startup Competition in San Francisco on May 11th, 2018 where the Global Competition winner will receive a $1,000,000 investment prize. Startup World Cup will provide airfare and two nights hotel stay for each regional winner to compete in the Grand Finale in San Francisco.

Thousands of startups from all around the world applied to the 2017 competition and the Startup World Cup 2017 Grand Finale featured prominent figures from the entrepreneurship community, including Steve Wozniak (Co-Founder of Apple), Daymond John (Star of ABC’s Shark Tank & Founder of FUBU), Alexis Ohanian (Co-Founder of Reddit) and Guy Kawasaki (former Chief Evangelist of Apple). Winners from 15 regional events pitched their startups at the Grand Finale, and UniFa from Japan took home the trophy with the $1,000,000 investment prize, and other regional champions received $10,000 value in legal services from Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP and Portfolio Package from Salesforce for Startups. Second place went to Open Bionics from the United Kingdom, and third place went to Ahlijasa from Indonesia. 

Silicon Vikings is a 40,000+ network headquartered in Silicon Valley (nonprofit organization founded in 1997) with nodes throughout the Nordic and Baltic region including Greater Copenhagen, Gothenburg , Helsinki, Norrland, Oslo, Reykjavik, Riga, Stockholm, Tallinn, and Vilnius. Silicon Vikings is a network of nodes with the mission of building a borderless community supporting Nordic and Baltic innovation and entrepreneurship in accordance with global best practices, with a close connection to Silicon Valley’s unique and leading innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem.

MARKETING PARTNERSHIPS:

If you are an organization interested in helping to market the Silicon Vikings Startup World Cup Competition in the Nordics through your networks, please email our Executive Director Charlotte Danielsson at charlotte.danielsson@siliconvikings.com

 

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“There Is No Free Lunch!”

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“There Is No Free Lunch!”

The economic axiom stating there is “no free lunch” is typically part of any introductory economic class, as students are taught that someone always has to pay, in one way or another, for products or services consumed—either directly or indirectly. In recent days, as Norway has become a frequent topic of discussion after President Trump’s reference to Norway in the context of U.S. immigration policies, it has become clear that some late night talk show hosts and others have forgotten about the economic axiom by referring to “free education,” “free health care,” etc. in Norway.

Let’s not kid ourselves. Norwegians—and similarly in other Nordic or other countries that seem to have “free services”—are paying for them, and most often via higher (than they would otherwise be) taxes, whether in the form of personal income taxes, corporate taxes, or value-added-taxes (VAT, or known as “moms” in Norway), or other forms of taxes. VAT is currently 25% on most products in Norway—or more than three times the sales tax in California, for instance. In Norway, higher tax revenues—to pay for these “collective services”—is the main why the public sector is much larger than that of many other countries. According to statistics from the Organization of Economic Collaboration and Development (OECD), tax revenues as percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the Nordics is considerably higher than in the US or in the OEDC countries on average (source, for the most recent year of available data, 2015):

  • Norway: 38.3%
  • Sweden: 43.3%
  • Denmark: 45.9%
  • Finland: 43.9%
  • US: 26.2%
  • Average OECD: 34%

Opposition to a large public sector, and thus high tax rates, is strong in the US, particularly among Republicans. This is especially true under the current Trump regime, where minimizing the size of the public sector—and especially the federal government (with the main exception of defense)—is a key policy goal.

Norwegians, and Nordics in general, tend to view the public sector—mostly with very competent staff (and very little, if any, corruption)—very differently from, and more favorably than is the case in the US, and generally are happy with the tradeoff of high taxes in return for a range of education, health care and other services they get through their tax payments. The generally high quality and accessibility of these services for most of the Norwegian (Nordic) population, including a “social safety net” that avoids the high levels of extreme poverty that exists in many parts of the US, have high degree of political agreement, again in sharp contrast to the US (where bipartisan policies are increasingly scarce).

Comparative analysis of a very large, complex and dynamic US economy with the much smaller, and generally much more homogeneous, Nordic economies should be done with extreme caution. Overly simplistic analysis that is often done (especially in the news media and in late-night talk shows), can result in superficial and mistaken conclusions. Short and shallow tweets by Trump, often reflecting lack of, or shallow understanding of, complex and difficult socio-economic or political issues, don’t encourage productive and informed dialog and discussion and instead brings more division and misunderstanding.

 

 

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Silicon Valley: Challenges Ahead

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Silicon Valley: Challenges Ahead

In my recent post on Silicon Valley, I took issue with Steinar Hoel Korsmo’s prediction that Silicon Valley would (relatively soon) become “irrelevant.” At least in my mind, the region—still the leading and most dynamic innovation ecosystem in the world—will not easily or quickly be toppled from its current position. But let me quickly point out that this does NOT mean that Silicon Valley will not face a increasingly fierce competition, as “the battle of innovation ecosystems” will likely intensify and we may well see the distance between Silicon Valley and its competitors shrink. How much is not clear, but LOTS of things are happening around the world, so the next decade or two will be exciting to watch.

Before I address some of the major challenges that I see Silicon Valley facing in the future—the solutions to which will determine whether, how much, and how fast the region may lose its current top ranking among innovation ecosystems—I will provide a bit more context around all of this, in part by referring to some graphics I am showing below.

The Evolution of the Valley

Many foreign observers often forget how the Valley has evolved over a number of phases which Doug Henton and John Melville—eminent regional economists and former SRI colleagues of mine (Doug is former, and John is the current, CEO of Collaborative Economics)—included in the opening of the Silicon Valley Competitiveness and Innovation Project (2015)—shown in Figure 1. The graphic summarizes key characteristics of each of the five phases. To me, underlying the 5 phases evolving over about 5 decades is a dynamic in which each phase drew on the best talent and resources of the previous phase, or phases, to build the companies and industries that have cumulatively resulted in an increasingly sophisticated, dynamic and resilient regional innovation ecosystem. This system has adapted very well to the changing and evolving needs of the regional, national and global economy, and, of course, a big part of this has been the tremendous talent base built by great number of highly skilled and eager workers coming in from around the US and other countries (more on this below).

Figure 1

Evolution of Silicon Valley

Silicon Valley Evolution_Henton.png

Source: Silicon Valley Competitiveness and Innovation Project - 2015

Strong Components of the Innovation Ecosystem

It is challenging to create a graphic that includes, and does justice to, the many factors or elements that shape and characterize the Silicon Valley innovation ecosystem. I have given many presentations about Silicon Valley to visiting delegations from the Nordics and elsewhere, and I often use the figure shown below, as a way to summarize and discuss some of the major factors that I think have played, and continue play, an important role in shaping the Valley. [I revise the figure when I realize I have left some things out, so please let me know if you see some things that are missing and I will add them to my next version of the figure].

 

Figure 2

Key Elements of the Innovation Engine of Silicon Valley

SV Ecosystem_My Fig_Revised.png

Source: Eilif Trondsen, Silicon Vikings

My graphic doesn’t, of course, show or explain the complex dynamics and interactions among the factors pointed to in the figure, but below I will address some of the changing dynamics that will likely have significant influence on how Silicon Valley will be viewed a decade or two from now.

Current and Emerging Challenges Facing Silicon Valley

For those of us who live in Silicon Valley, some of the issues addressed below enter into daily evaluation and weighting the pros and cons of being here, and trying to decide “should I stay or leave”, but in some ways this is probably true for anyone living in urban areas (around the world) that are “under stress” by challenges of housing (availability and costs), transportation/traffic, and cost of living. It is far beyond the scope of this blog post to take a deep dive into these issues, but only point to some of the developments that now threaten the long term health of our ecosystem.

               Housing

Lack of affordable housing has long been a problem in the Bay Area, not only in San Francisco, but up and down the Peninsula. While highly paid software engineers, business executives, lawyers, and many other professionals don’t have problems paying for housing, growing numbers of others are struggling and now face long and painful commutes as they are forced to move (to the South Bay or East Bay, in most cases) as they search for housing they can afford. Most people in the retail and service industries that support the high tech industries are severely affected, but so are “entry level professionals”, and even with new efforts by many Bay Area cities making plans for more low-income housing, it will not likely come close to meeting current or future needs.

As the tech giants—including Apple, Google Facebook, and others—expand their operations and footprint in Silicon Valley (Google, for example, has plans to occupy large parts of downtown San Jose, near the train station and will dramatically expand its footprint in that part of the Bay), the cost of housing will likely see continue to rise. The effect of Apple’s new campus in Cupertino has had some amazing impacts, and a recent local news article pointed out that someone had paid around $730,000 above asking price for a 2,000 square foot house near the new Apple Campus. The joint impact of Apple’s growth and the inflow of wealthy Chinese who regularly pay $1.5 million for small houses around Cupertino, make housing increasingly unaffordable for large segments of the labor force in Silicon Valley.

Increasingly dense housing—including (relatively) low-cost housing—near public transportation hubs, including Caltrain stations—is one (partial) solution that could alleviate some of the current housing problems, and projects of this kind are now underway. However, so far, most cities are avoiding high rise solutions, in sharp contrast to what one finds in other urban areas around the world.

               Traffic

Yes, worsening traffic congestion is not unique to the SF Bay Area, and you may note that this is the cost of having a vibrant economy—and undoubtedly, congestion will improve when the economy slows down, and which of these evils do you want? A significant part of the traffic problem is caused by growing numbers of people being forced (by high cost of housing) to move (to the south Bay and beyond) or towards Sacramento, spending perhaps 2 or more hours commuting to and from work. Figure 3 shows how traffic has changed in recent years, and how this compares to other heavily trafficked areas of the country.

Figure 3

The Long Way Home

  Source:   California’s Housing Policy Is Holding Back Its Climate Policy; Bloomberg; November 15, 2017

Source: California’s Housing Policy Is Holding Back Its Climate Policy; Bloomberg; November 15, 2017

Growing recognition that a number of interconnected traffic problems of the SF Bay Area could help undermine the health of the economy of Silicon Valley, including driving much needed talent out, or contributing to the needed talent deciding to stay out, is reflected in various efforts now under way to look for unprecedented measures to try to fix these problems, once and for all. Urban transport experts now say that all previous steps have been incremental and have been a case of “too late, too little” and have not really had a significant, positive impact on Bay Area traffic. As a result, as discussed in a very recent article in the San Jose Mercury News (“A Multi-billion-dollar ‘mega measure’ to fix Bay Area traffic for good heading your way”, December 17, 2017), including a podcast on the same topic, describe how powerful, private sector organizations, including Silicon Valley Leadership Group and the Bay Area Council, along with the urban planning think tank SPUR, have come to the following conclusions about Bay Area traffic:

  • The problems cannot be solved without a holistic, comprehensive plan that includes all elements of our transport system (cars, ferries, trains, bridges and highways, among other things) throughout the Bay Area
  • A roadmap that includes all the elements of the solution must be agreed to and accepted, and the total package must be presented to the taxpayers, so they can understand why the cost—likely to be around $100-150 Billion—is high, but is the only way the current problems can be solved.

Interestingly, Silicon Valley is known for attacking big business and technology problems and seeking “disruptive solutions” but so far no one in Silicon Valley has presented acceptable, innovative, creative solutions that could totally transform our current, poorly functioning transportation (and thus housing) systems. So, I applaud the organizations and people involved in the new ‘mega measure’ and hope they can create consensus around the solution and convince the region’s taxpayers that this is worth funding. If they are successful, it will likely be a major and positive contribution towards making Silicon Valley innovation engine sustainable in the long run, in my view.

 

               Retaining and Recruiting Talent

To some extent, this issue is also partly tied in with the two earlier issues/challenges of housing and traffic, and solving them will definitely make Silicon Valley a more attractive option for talented workers from around the US and the world, who in the past have come in droves to Silicon Valley. The immigrants from other countries have helped launch over half of all startups in Silicon Valley over the last decade or so (much has been written on this topic of immigrant entrepreneurs, and a Google search will reveal a significant literature), so any slow down or reversal of this trend could significantly harm the Silicon Valley innovation engine.

While the housing and traffic elements discussed above are to a large extent within the control of the SF Bay Area residents/policy makers (not true of the federal funding that may be needed for some parts of the ‘mega measure’), this is not true for the issue of foreign immigrant entrepreneurs. Current federal policies and regulations in these areas already have hurt not only foreign students who want to come and study in the US but foreign immigrants who would likely start companies or provide deep, needed technical expertise to Silicon Valley companies, are now reluctant to even try to seek visas that are now much more difficult to obtain, especially if you are from certain countries. And as other, competing “innovation hubs” in other countries, in Europe and Asia, especially, which are more welcoming to foreigners and also often provide significant funding in the form of grants and seed investments, will make it more difficult for Silicon Valley tech companies to hire the talent they need, at least for their Silicon Valley-based operations.

On top of the immigration challenges that Silicon Valley may face in the near future—especially if future regulations and policies don’t change their current trajectory—we must add a worrying situation for education sysems in the SF Bay Area. A presentation by Michael Kirst, Professor Emeritus of Education and Business Administration at Stanford University—and a recognized expert on the US, California and local post-secondary educational system and trends—at a Media X workshop at Stanford (on Innovation Ecosystems for AI-Based Education, Training and Learning) on November 13, 2017 made it very clear that current conditions are NOT good. Here are just a small sample of the statistics that Professor Kirst shared, all with potentially serious implications for the vitality of Silicon Valley’s long term economic health (especially when seen in combination with the other factors discussed above):

  • San Jose State University, which is a key provider of engineering talent to Silicon Valley, has 50,000 applicants and can only take 20,000
  • Completion rates at Community Colleges are very low (20-30%), implying a significant waste of resources
  • Qualified K12 graduates can’t find places in post-graduate institutions
  • Because of inadequate funding and other factors, many students can’t get into the majors they prefer
  • The region has very few workforce development centers (for helping people who often already have college degrees)

Concluding Remarks

“Prediction is hard, especially about the future”, according to an old Danish proverb (and often attributed to Niels Bohr). And predicting what the condition and future ranking of Silicon Valley as a regional innovation ecosystem will be is obviously difficult and highly uncertain. But, as noted in my first blog post on this topic, I have heard many wrong predictions over the last 40 years, most assuming Silicon Valley would not be able to retain its position as the world’s leading innovation ecosystem. Too many other dynamic regions with strong innovation ecosystems would no doubt catch up and surpass Silicon Valley. The region’s resilience has surprised many, but perhaps not so much the local regional economists, like Doug Henton and John Melville, among those who has a deep understanding of the region.

But let me be clear: The past is (obviously) not necessarily a good predictor of what the future will be! And many regional economists and Silicon Valley policy makers and business leaders are now concerned about the issues I have noted above, and likely also many other issues that I have not included in this post (some of the other issues are noted in the Scorecard shown in Figure 4). And many excellent reports and articles have been written about interesting changes in other parts of the world, and what these may mean for Silicon Valley. Let me point to just two interesting reports that address what is happening on the European and Chinese technology fronts, both written by excellent analysts at the Bay Area Council Economic Institute (both available, for free, at the BACEI website):

  • Innovation Bridge: Technology, Startups, and Europe’s Connection to Silicon Valley (August 2017)
  • Chinese Innovation: China’s Technology Future and What it Means for Silicon Valley (November 2017)

These two reports discuss both the strengths and weaknesses of the innovation ecosystems in Europe and China, but point to significant changes that have taken place and that are underway, which may make both regions more competitive with Silicon Valley in the future. But, as the reports also point out, both Europe and China have extensive, and often deep, connections to Silicon Valley, and these connections will likely evolve and perhaps strengthen. Chinese tech companies, with huge domestic advantages (as China continues to protect its domestic markets and so far refuse to embrace “reciprocity” trade principles that others obey, mostly), could give Chinese tech companies significant “big data advantages” that they can leverage in combination with huge investments being planned for AI and machine learning in China.

Some Nordic analysts and prominent executives and entrepreneurs also think that Europe could (finally) start closing the gap on the US and Silicon Valley, particularly in areas outside of technology. In a recent article in the Financial Times, Marten Mickos, a prominent Nordic business executive in Silicon Valley [CEO of HackerOne, and previously SVP at HP, Board Member at Nokia, and CEO of Eucalyptus Systems] noted that “Entrepreneurial opportunities are moving out of just ‘software’ or ‘tech’ and into all aspects of life. In these new areas, I believe the EU can perform strongly compared to Silicon Valley.” Whether this will be enough to diminish Silicon Valley’s overall ranking as a leading innovation ecosystem, is unclear

Finally, let me briefly mention that a book I am reading ‘[The New Education, by the eminent US educator, Cathy Davidson, the City University of New York] has led me to wonder whether our secondary and post-secondary educational institutions are keeping up with innovations happening in other parts of the US. This is also what Professor Kirst implied in his recent presentation at the workshop I attended at Stanford. Professor Davidson refers to many of the leading innovators in US Higher Education that are blazing new paths outside the old silos of traditional academic fields to prepare students for careers that draw on the best of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) PLUS humanities and Arts, so students can become versatile and can adapt quickly to changing career opportunities and work environments. If Silicon Valley schools—starting in elementary schools, and in secondary or post-secondary levels—indeed are not among the leading innovators in the US and the world, this could threaten Silicon Valley’s prominence in the long term. This is especially true if people from outside Silicon Valley (either in the US or from foreign countries) decide that they are not wanted or that access to Silicon Valley is too difficult, or costly. In this scenario, Silicon Valley’s innovation ecosystem will take a significant hit.

NOTE: If you want to take a “deeper dive” into competitiveness issues of Silicon Valley, I highly recommend the reports from the Silicon Valley Competitiveness and Innovation Project (SVCIP): A Dashboard and Policy Scorecard for a Shared Agenda of Prosperity and Opportunity. Figure 4 shows the SVCIP Indicator Dashboard from the 2017 report, summarizing its findings.

Figure 4

SVCIP Indicator Dashboard

SVCIP Indicator Dashboard.png

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Working With Norwegians--Comments on book by Sean Percival

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Working With Norwegians--Comments on book by Sean Percival

Sean Percival.JPG

By Eilif Trondsen, Ph.D., Chair of SIG on Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Learning

 

If you are a Norwegian, and curious how people from other countries may think of us (especially in business contexts), you may consider picking up this book:  Working with Norwegians (written by the American VC, Sean Percival, who has lived in Norway for two years or so).  If you are not Norwegian, but work and interact with Norwegians, you may also read the book and see if you agree with what Sean says in the book.

Of course, Sean makes generalizations (that I think some will take some exceptions to) and state things in “black and white” to make his points stand out, and this makes for more interesting (and sometimes fun) reading, and thus avoids making things too bland and uninteresting. Keep this in mind when you read the book.

Sean refers to the “law of Jante”—which states that you should not stand out and try to be better than others—and I guess that still holds to a certain extent in Norway (and perhaps the rest of the Nordics). BUT, I suspect that “law” holds much less today than in the past, and it will continue to erode, especially as young people in Norway now are embracing entrepreneurship like never before, and also start accepting risk much more than before. Yes, in certain areas of business, risk aversion still is strong, and perhaps especially in the kind of venture operations that Sean works in, as this is very high risk and (hopefully) high return.

My wife, who is American (but lived in Norway for a year), agrees with many of Sean’s observations, including the following: It is hard to get to know Norwegians because they (most) don’t connect easily with strangers/outsiders (my wife certainly found this to be true). In the major metropolitan centers of Norway, which have the largest concentrations of foreigners, this might not be as true as in smaller towns and in rural areas.

Sean also comments on the slow pace in Norway, and he contrasts with Silicon Valley (but today, perhaps even more with the extreme pace of things, especially in entrepreneurial environments, in China). Yes, I think this is true, and this often results in Norwegian entrepreneurs being slow in following up on communications when they come to Silicon Valley. If you want to have success in Silicon Valley, the work-life balance that most Norwegians enjoy (and that Sean is now embracing, it seems) might be difficult. And here, the boundaries between work and leisure are blurry, or don’t exist. Some of us find this ok, but most probably agree that the Norwegian situation is sensible, and something we in Silicon Valley should strive to achieve. But if we want to compete with the Chinese (and others), this may be wishful thinking!

Sean also makes the point, in many parts of the book, that Norwegians—like other Nordics?—are not good at “small talk.” This can complicate or result in awkward business and social interactions. Since Norwegians and other Nordics travel extensively, especially as Norwegian Air often offers incredible deals on international flights, I would expect that Norwegians would slowly pick up the art of small talk. And as Norwegian entrepreneurs—growing by leaps and bounds over the last five years or so (as in the other Nordics)—interact with foreign partners and customers, mastery (at some level) of small talk would (hopefully) result.

Much respect is given in the book to Norwegian business culture of collegiality, lack of formality (including avoiding titles), lack of extreme salary differences (vastly different from Silicon Valley), and honesty, obeying rules and regulations, etc. Sean also claims that Norwegians “love their taxes” but here I think he overdoes it. Yes, Norwegians recognize they benefit in many ways from significant public services that must be paid for, and in contrast to the current regime in the US, which holds that taxes should be minimized to shrink the government/public sector, Norwegians (and most Nordics, I suspect) see things very differently. BUT I have seen many times how people pay cash (“under the table”) to avoid “Moms” (the value added tax, VAT) on services rendered by carpenters, plumbers and others, and one report I saw, said Norway had the second highest underground economy in Western Europe (14% of GDP), which raises doubts about Norwegians love of taxes.

But I enjoyed reading the book and think most readers, whether they are Norwegians or from other countries (and who have interactions with Norwegians) will find it enjoyable, get a few laughs, and hopefully also learn a few things that can avoid some of the cultural challenges that Sean points to in the book. Happy reading.

 

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Silicon Valley: Becoming Irrelevant?

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Silicon Valley: Becoming Irrelevant?

Over the almost 40 years that I have worked and lived in Silicon Valley—and observed and studied this amazing, dynamic, and complex innovation ecosystem—I have heard many times the view (mostly from visiting delegations) that Silicon Valley, although interesting and important, especially from a historical perspective and perhaps even currently, would soon be in decline and be eclipsed by other regions. (I regularly get a newsletter entitled “The Next Silicon Valley” so I keep an eye on competing regions around the world). Today, I learned (from a Facebook posting and an article in the Norwegian Innovation Magazine—that a Norwegian “investor guru”, Steinar Hoel Korsmo, President and CEO of the Seed Forum Network, which organizes pitching sessions and training around the world—thinks that Silicon Valley “will be irrelevant in 30 years” and perhaps even in 20 years or before! This prediction was given in his presentation to the Change Makers conference in Oslo, Norway.

Unfortunately, VERY little evidence is presented in the InnoMag article for why Mr. Korsmo feels Silicon Valley will start going into decline and become “irrelevant”, except for basing his prediction/speculation on things like:

  • The growing numbers and quality of entrepreneurs he sees at the Seed Forum pitching sessions around the world, including in the Middle East and Africa
  • The emergence of “new” industries that are emerging or will emerge—which he seems to feel, I guess, that Silicon Valley will, for some reason (not mentioned in the article), not be participating in (and driving) to any significant degree.

An important piece of Mr. Korsmo’s thinking, it seems, is that the emergence of “new Silicon Valleys” around the world will be driven in part by entrepreneurs in developing countries funded by aid programs of countries like Norway, as these will take the place of traditional development aid (for infrastructure and other more traditional development projects). And one of the important arguments behind such new entrepreneurship programs is that they will bring jobs and economic growth to the Middle East and Africa and thus slow, or ideally stop, the “migration crisis” facing Europe (According to Organization for Migration (IOM) and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) estimates, around one million migrants and refugees arrived in Europe till 21 December 2015, three to four times more than in 2014, but dropping by around half or so in 2016).

Shifting development some of the (traditional) development aid towards funding entrepreneurship programs—and thus supporting programs like Mr. Korsmo’s Seed Forum—may make good sense, to both alleviate the humanitarian crisis resulting from the migration crisis, and to stimulate new development paths in Africa and the Middle East. It will be interesting to see whether other Nordic and European countries change their economic development policies and aid programs towards support of entrepreneurship, and if so, to what extent this will create significant new jobs and growth in the Middle East and Africa.

Yes, the growth of entrepreneurship has been fascinating to watch, in almost all countries around the world, including the Nordics which has seen a disproportionately strong growth in: Number of entrepreneurs, successful startups, amount of seed and VC funding raised, and number of so-called unicorns. (Very well-informed people like Neil Murray, Nordic Web, regularly publish updates on this—for more info on this and other information sources, please see the Silicon Vikings FAQ session on our website). But it is not clear, yet, that this growth in entrepreneurship around the world will undermine the future of Silicon Valley, which Mr. Korsmo assumes/predicts. While it is far beyond the scope of this brief article to describe and analyze the current trends in Silicon Valley that will help shape its future, or lay out a detailed view of what the future of Silicon Valley will be, I will point to a few things that I think will be important factors determining its future viability. In a separate post, I will address some of the challenges the region will have to address if it wants to keep its role as the premier innovation ecosystem in the world.

Here are a very few of the trends that help strengthen the regions innovation ecosystem—both in absolute and relative terms (i.e. relative to other regions that Mr. Korsmo feels will overtake Silicon Valley). If you are interested in more depth of the Silicon Valley ecosystem, you can find a number of past posts I have made in the Silicon Valley blog (listed in a box at the end of this post), and a Google search will no doubt surface numerous books that should be of interest.

Depth and diversity of talent. The Valley has been, and continues to be, a magnet for talent from around the world. While Chinese leaders feel their population of 1.4 billion gives them an important edge in building their innovation economy for the future, the US has traditionally been very successful in tapping top talent from the world’s 7.6 billion people! (And the self-selection of these people to come and start, often from scratch, in Silicon Valley, point to their determination and recognition of the resources, both money and knowledge (about building companies) that are available in Silicon Valley. Even though the Trump Administration policies are undermining the “talent attraction engine” of Silicon Valley, this is hopefully only a temporary setback and will be reversed once Trump is gone! (and hopefully soon!) Talented engineers and scientists who get educated at UC Berkeley, Stanford and many other excellent universities and colleges in the greater Bay Area often want to stay and start their own companies here, and many others come with dreams of finding cofounders, funding and customers here. The large Indian and Chinese population in Silicon Valley—as well as sizable groups from most countries around the world (including the Nordics!)—play a very important role in building new and innovative companies (which Vivek Wadhwa and others have written about), including in the future and not-yet-identified industries of the future that Mr. Korsmo refers to.

Open innovation brings startups and large enterprises together. Silicon Valley has long been a very densely populated region, consisting of large numbers of small and large, world-class tech companies across a variety of industries and sectors, especially in high tech—spread across a relatively small region (enabling easy direct access). The region also is the home for large number of well-established incubators and accelerators, many of which now have interesting programs which bring startups together with larger, established corporations (often in specific “verticals” like these offered by Plug and Play: Internet of Things, Fintech, Brand & Retail, Insurance, Health, Travel & Hospitality, New Materials & Packaging, Mobility, Food & Beverage, Supply Chain & Logistics, Energy & Sustainability, and Cybersecurity). Similar programs are offered by Rocketspace in SF and others. Foreign firms coming in to Silicon Valley, or the Greater Bay Area, sometimes take advantage of the existing accelerator infrastructure, as it enables the new entrants to quickly find a way into the Valley’s complex innovation ecosystem.

Silicon Valley innovation outposts (SVIOs). This is a topic I have written a bit about in the past—see information in box at the end of the blog post—and this part of the Valley’s innovation ecosystem continues to strengthen and grow. Depending on how you define SVIOs, there are probably between 150 and 300 of these scattered around the Bay Area. In my third SVIO post (in the box), I included a graphic showing a number of automotive, or mobility, related SVIOs that now form a hub of “next generation mobility companies”, so this is an example where the future is now being created in the Valley, BUT obviously the large incumbent players in Detroit, Stuttgart, and across Japan, Korea and soon in China, will also help shape the new auto or mobility industry. But since software and AI/machine learning—plus big data—will be crucial elements of this emergent industry, Silicon Valley is very well positioned to continue to play an important role, far more so than the emergent entrepreneurial hubs in the Middle East and Africa that Mr. Korsmo suggested, or implied. One of the more interesting elements of the SVIO picture, especially as we look to the next decade or more, is what the role of large Asian, and especially Chinese, companies—including the “Big BATs” of Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent—will play in contributing to the evolution of Silicon Valley. This quickly becomes complex as these large Chinese “platform companies” are increasingly competing globally with the “Big 5” US platform companies, three of which are in Silicon Valley (Apple, Facebook and Google) and 2 in Seattle (Amazon and Microsoft). Some of these issues were dealt with in an excellent new report published by the Bay Area Council Economic Institute, BACEI (Chinese Innovation: China’s Technology Future and What it Means for Silicon Valley, is available for free here). A likely scenario will involve both collaboration and competition among these large players as well as smaller companies here and in China, some of which will benefit from needed capital coming from China, and others will face tough competition from growing number of Chinese startups. Other Silicon Valley companies will find new ways to enter the Chinese market through collaborative ventures, but these could also be challenging, as they need to protect Intellectual Property and learn how to operate in less transparent and increasingly politically-driven high tech environment in China. (Some of these issues will also be addressed in the Silicon Vikings event on November 29 at Stanford University)

Networking: Life blood and knowledge sharing system of Silicon Valley. It is interesting to see the explosion in incubators and accelerators in the Nordics and elsewhere, and the associated growth in events and (informal) networking that has long been the life blood of Silicon Valley. Large number of Meetup and other events—including at the many incubators and accelerators throughout the Bay Area—offer interesting events, typically with a focus on particular technologies and often with pitching sessions with local or international startups. In my blog post on Innovation Outposts: A Growing Element in Silicon Valley’s Dynamic Innovation Ecosystem; April 6, 2015 (see box below for links), I listed 10 software-related Meetup Groups in Silicon Valley, the top 3 with a total of 40,518 members. The same three Meetup groups today have 66,119 members, including 32,720 members in the Silicon Valley Entrepreneurs & Startups group, an increase of 84% in about 2 1/2 years! And don’t underestimate the value of these informal events and networking opportunities. They serve many roles, all helping to “oil the innovation engine” of Silicon Valley:

  • Learning what are new and interesting projects that give you an idea of what is “trending” in the world of tech and entrepreneurship and what is getting funded, etc
  • Connect with people (including investors, of course—and 30-40% of all VC funding is still located in Silicon Valley—and has remained pretty stable over many years) and get their business cards to you can connect with them when and if you are looking for a job or funding.
  • Gaining insights and learn what people are thinking about and hearing perspectives of people from different background (and, usually, from other parts of the world)

Such groups and networking phenomena are now common in many parts of the world and on the rise all over, especially in the emerging hubs of entrepreneurship in Europe. But the extent and intensity of intensity in Silicon Valley is still ahead of most other parts of the world. (For a good report and listing of what is happening on the entrepreneurial front, please see another excellent BACEI report, Innovation Bridge: Technology, Startups, and Europe’s Connection to Silicon Valley. This report also clearly demonstrates the close connections of Europe to Silicon Valley, something that will not go away anytime soon and thus will keep supporting, and likely strengthen, the position and role of Silicon Valley. A subset of this picture of the SV-Europe connection is of course the growing and strengthening—NOT weakening!—connection between the Nordics and Baltics and Silicon Valley, something we in Silicon Vikings are seeing “up close and personal.” And again, there are NO signs of this weakening.

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Links of my SVIO posts:

1.      The New Transportation Ecosystem and The Role of Silicon Valley; July 20, 2015 — http://siliconvikings.com/blog/2015/7/20/the-new-transportation-ecosystem-and-the-role-of-silicon-valley

2.      Silicon Valley Innovation Outposts: Update; June 20, 2015 — http://siliconvikings.com/blog/2015/6/20/silicon-valley-innovation-outposts-update-1

3.      Innovation Outposts: A Growing Element in Silicon Valley’s Dynamic Innovation Ecosystem; April 6, 2015 — http://siliconvikings.com/blog/2015/4/6/innovation-outposts-a-growing-element-in-silicon-valleys-dynamic-innovation-ecosystem

4.      Silicon Valley Innovation Outposts: Mini-Case Studies; April 6, 2015—http://siliconvikings.com/blog/2015/4/6/silicon-valley-innovation-outposts-mini-case-studies  

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The Growing Dominance of “Big Tech”

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The Growing Dominance of “Big Tech”

Over the last year, I have read a number of articles describing and analyzing the rise of “the platform economy” and the growing concentration of corporate revenues and profits in a very small number of very large companies, including especially the large tech companies [this situation may be seen as analogous to the growing concentration of personal income and wealth among a VERY small number of people and families in the “top 1% or top .1% that we have seen in the US and many other countries]. A series of articles covering these issues have appeared over the last year in a number of newspaper and magazines, including the (British) magazine Economist and the Wall Street Journal—and here are just a couple of links, in case you are interested:

More recently, another article dealing with much the same topic appeared in the Wall Street Journal under the title “Can the Tech Giants be Stopped” (by Jonathan Taplin). Here are just a few excepts that may give you a sense of what has been happening over just the last 10 years:

  • “Ten years ago, only one of them, Microsoft , was among the biggest companies in the world as measured by market capitalization. These days, the top five usually consists of Apple, Alphabet (the parent company of Google), Amazon, Microsoft and Facebook.” [Interestingly, these are all US companies—which explains the growing concern of Margrethe Vestager, the (Danish) head of the EU Commissioner for Competition—and 3 of the 5 are of course Silicon Valley companies]
  • Given the increasing role (at least potentially) of big data and AI (including Machine and Deep Learning] to affect future competitiveness of companies, this comment in the article by AI venture capitalist Kai-Fu Lee should give us all pause: “A.I. is an industry in which strength begets strength: The more data you have, the better your product; the better your product, the more data you can collect; the more data you can collect, the more talent you can attract; the more talent you can attract, the better your product.”
  • Taplin notes that “this shift [towards platform domination of a small number of players] has brought about a massive reallocation of revenue, with economic value moving from the creators of content to the owners of monopoly platforms.” And Taplin adds that “In the third quarter of 2016, companies owned by Facebook or Google took 90% of all new digital ad revenue.”

Europeans are understandably worrying about their media organizations (and even about the future implications of the role their national languages will see use in the new media world) and what will happen to them as they try to compete with Google and Facebook, especially. Taplin notes that in the US, “newspaper ad revenue fell from $65.8 billion in 2000 to $23.6 billion in 2013 (the last year for which data are available).” In Norway, an effort was launched in the spring of 2016 among Norway’s leading media companies to create a consortium that could pool resources to build a competitive, joint media platform that would offer Norwegian consumers more personalized and competitive services to what Google and Facebook can offer them in Norway. The hope was to also get NRK, the (public) broadcasting system in Norway to join the group, and thereby bringing more content resources into the group.

Will we see more efforts in the Nordics, elsewhere in Europe and in other countries around the world as they see the growing US dominance continue and perhaps grow? And what is the likelihood that these smaller national or regional companies or consortia can provide the resources needed to compete effectively with the big US tech players? While large and powerful Chinese media companies are emerging—including Baidu, Tencent and others—and which have enormous data bases and unique access to data on Chinese consumers that can give them an edge in leveraging their new AI-based platforms in their domestic market, it is not clear they will be able to compete effectively against the big US tech giants in international markets.

The Taplin article in WSJ used a graphic which showed a vacuum cleaner sucking up media/content, consumers, technology and companies, and some of this may be good news to many foreign and US startup companies that see potentially lucrative exits by selling out to the US tech giants. But we should perhaps start also thinking more broadly about the social, economic and political implications we will face in the future if the trend over the last 10 years continues or even accelerates.

Illustration: Robert Neubecker  

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Recording of Anticipating and Preparing for the Future Session

Anticipating and Preparing for the Future--Session Recording

At the request of Adrienne Sörbom, one of our excellent panelists at last night's event, we decided to record and post the proceedings (after Brock and Jim agreed and had no objections) so that Adrienne's friends around the world, and others, of course, could enjoy the discussion that took place last night. We realize the recording is long--about 90 minutes--but you can "surf and sample" and listen to just a bit here and there, of course, so no need to sit through the whole session, unless you are very interested in issues around "futurizing." Enjoy.

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Next-Gen Tech: Think Nordic?

By Eilif Trondsen, Ph.D., Chair, Special Interest Group on Entrepreneurship and Learning, Silicon Vikings

 

Full Disclosure Note: Since I have been a Board member of Silicon Vikings for about 6 years and serve as the Chair of the Special Interest Group of Entrepreneurship and Learning, I cannot say I am a “disinterested party in promoting the Nordic Brand.” Silicon Vikings have for 20 years been promoting “thinking and doing Nordic” from our HQ in Silicon Valley and our nodes in the Nordic & Baltic region. Over the last year, we have also had support from Nordic Innovation for a project to build a Nordic Edtech Network (see various posts on this in our blog), and Nordic Innovation is very much supporting and promoting the Nordic brand.

Silicon Valley, more specifically, Palo Alto, also is the home of the Nordic Innovation House (NIH), led by Gro Dyrnes (who is also the Director of Innovation Norway) and other Nordic colleagues, also with support from Nordic Innovation. NIH is a great addition to the Nordic presence in Silicon Valley, complementing and augmenting (to a Nordic level) the work by Innovation Norway, Vinnova, Tekes, Finpro, Team Finland, and Innovation Center Denmark. Nordic startups are among the greatest beneficiaries of the presence of NIH and the Nordic organizations in Silicon Valley, and they all help connect entrepreneurs, but also large enterprise representatives who come to Silicon Valley to seek new partnership or technology as part of their open innovation strategies.

The explosion in entrepreneurial activity in the Nordics over the last five years or so has helped strengthen the Nordic brand in tech, and has helped create growing interest among US (and European) investors in Nordic tech companies. And interesting signs are pointing to new areas—such as AI, or specific areas of AI, like machine learning—where we may see growing presence of strong Nordic startup companies in the future. Just this morning, an article described a new initiative to accelerate the building of education, research and competence development around Artificial Intelligence. Norway’s Telenor-NTNU AI-Lab. This is being established with funding from the Norwegian telecom company, Telenor, tech research contribution from Norway’s leading technology university, NTNU, and SINTEF, the leading Norwegian research organization (similar to SRI International in Silicon Valley) focused on the commercialization of the AI technology coming out of the lab. As I read the article, I wondered about:

  • What similar initiatives have been launched or are under consideration in other Nordic countries for AI-focused research (basic and applied)?
  • What potential Nordic collaboration opportunities exist around AI research as well as around commercializing and building companies around AI-related technologies (like machine learning)?
  • And if larger, Nordic initiatives could be launched, would it not make sense for these to have a few representatives, either permanently or on a rolling basis, sitting in NIH in Silicon Valley as a way to connect with the many AI-focused initiatives and companies—small and large—that operate in Silicon Valley? At our Silicon Vikings event on Digital Transformation last week, one of our panelists was Nicolai Wadström, of Swedish background, and now heading a very interesting and unique venture capital investment firm, BootstrapLabs Group, that is focused on Applied Artificial Intelligence. Nicolai has for some time had a “front row seat” at AI developments not only in Silicon Valley, but also in Asia and other parts of the world, and I suspect he would be interested in building bridges to Nordic AI initiatives.

Many other, similar opportunities no doubt exist in other technology areas, such as Blockchain, for instance. After reading Don Tapscott’s book, Blockchain Revolution (after I attended his book launch seminar in San Francisco in June of 2016), I have seen an explosion of interest in the Blockchain technology, with numerous consortia and companies emerging to explore how to exploit the technology. A friend of mine took a leadership position in an Oslo-based accelerator—TheFactory (running two parallel programs, FintechFactory and InsurtechFactory)—and reported growing interest in Blockchain startups. In conversations with a Finnish edtech platform company I therefore suggested that they should consider using their platform to create a Nordic Blockchain Knowledge Community to connect Nordic experts and companies focused on Blockchain, and to encourage dialog and collaboration across the Nordics.

Another development that I am hoping to see before too long, is more sizable investment funds focused on Next-Gen Nordic Tech, ideally of the magnitude similar to what Atomico’s recent tech venture fund of $765 million (Atomico is a London-based venture firm started by Skype co-founder Niklas Zennstrom). Funds of this size  would help accelerate the growth of Nordic companies in AI, Blockchain, and other key technologies of the future. Again, Nordic collaboration in creating large investment funds for risky tech ventures across the Nordics would help sustain the strong startup growth that the Nordic region has experienced in recent years.

 

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The Emerging Nordic Edtech Landscape: Some Early Research Findings and Observations

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The Emerging Nordic Edtech Landscape: Some Early Research Findings and Observations

Two previous posts in the Silicon Vikings blog--Nordic EdTech Network: Building a Vibrant Nordic EdTech Network, and Nordic EdTech Network Project Update--described and gave an initial update on the research project which Silicon Vikings was commissioned by Nordic Innovation (a Nordic funding agency with HQ in Oslo, Norway). Two blog posts were just posted on the Nordic EdTech Network website, and if you are interested in an initial, detailed look at the emerging Nordic EdTech industry, here are the two blog posts:

1. The Emerging Nordic Edtech Landscape: Some Early Research Findings and Observations — Part I

2. The Emerging Nordic Edtech Landscape: Some Early Research Findings and Observations — Part II

 

 

 

 

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New "International Entrepreneur" Immigration Rule

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New "International Entrepreneur" Immigration Rule

The US Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) has proposed a new 155 page ‘International Entrepreneur Rule’ which will be published in the Federal Register this week for a 45 day public comment period. 

UPDATE 9/6/16:  THE 45 DAY DEADLINE FOR PUBLIC COMMENT ON THE PROPOSED INTERNATIONAL ENTREPRENEUR RULE IS 10/17/16.  YOUR COMMENTS CAN HELP MAKE SURE THIS RULE BECOMES A REALITY. YOU CAN COMMENT AT:  http://bit.ly/2c8UA2q

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Nordic EdTech Network Project Update—August 30, 2016

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Nordic EdTech Network Project Update—August 30, 2016

by Eilif Trondsen, Project Leader, Nordic EdTech Network

Much of the effort in the project since it was made official, has focused on checking, updating and gathering new information on the companies on our initial lists shown in the resources section of the project website .

Some of our initial findings and insights from this early work will soon—in the next 2-3 weeks—be published as a blog post, tentatively entitled “The Emerging Nordic Edtech Landscape: Some Early Research Findings and Reflections” on the project website as well as in the Silicon Vikings blog—so check this out if you have an interest in the emerging Nordic Edtech industry.

We also held an edtech workshop (one of the three tracks) at the World Learning Summit 2016 at the University of Agder, in southern Norway during June 14-15. I designed, recruited panelists, and chaired all the sessions of this edtech track. We had great Nordic participation and great discussions—both among the panelists and very good Q&A sessions. The table below shows the sessions and panelists.

1.   Nordic EdTech Companies’ Perspectives

•  Tom Foosnæs, Chairman of the Board, StudyRoom, Norway

•  Mikael Uusi Makela, Learning Developer, 5 More Minutes Lt and TeacherGaming, Finland

•  Anders Børde, CEO, MOBLRN, Sweden

•  Hanna Kristin, Founder & CEO, Mimi Creations, Iceland

2.   Nordic EdTech Ecosystem: Panel Discussion

•  Hege Tollerud, CEO, Oslo EdTech Cluster, Norway

•  Antti Korhonen, CEO, xEdu, Finland

•  Signe Schak Noesgaard, University of Aalborg, Denmark

3.   National, Regional and Global Trends & Issues: Opportunities and Market Challenges

•   Kristian Collin Berge, CEO and co-founder, EdTech Foundry, Norway

•   Martyn Farrows, Center Director, Learnovate Center, Trinity College Dublin, Ireland

•   Suvi Uski, Social Psychology and Interactions, Mightifier, Finland

•   Narashima Boopathi, Partner and COO, Koulu Education Group, Finland

4.   Raising Capital: Trends and Best Practice

•  Keith Devlin, co-founder, President and Senior Scientist of BrainQuake, Inc.

•  Mervi Pänkäläinen, Partner at The Mighty United Oy, Finland

•  Antti Korhonen, CEO, xEDU, Finland

5.   Future of EdTech: Emerging Learning Models & Role of Data

•  Mikael Uusi Makela, Learning Developer, 5 More Minutes Lt and TeacherGaming, Finland

•  Mervi Pänkäläinen, Partner at The Mighty United Oy, Finland

•  Martyn Farrows, Center Director, Learnovate Center, Trinity College Dublin, Ireland

6.   The Search for Sustainable Business Models

•  Vidar Mortensen, CEO, Sunsense, Norway

•  Signe Schak Noesgaard, University of Aalborg, Denmark

•  Hege Tollerud, Oslo EdTech Cluster

The upcoming blog post referred to above will also contain information on upcoming activities and work in the project, but feel free to contact me eilif.trondsen@siliconvikings.com or visit the project website.

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Nordic EdTech Network: Building a Vibrant Nordic EdTech Community

The interest in and activity around entrepreneurship has exploded in recent years, including in the Nordics/Baltics. And while edtech is still a relatively small piece of the startup industry, it has been growing in numbers of edtech startups as well as the total amount of investment capital going into the emergent edtech industry. According to the research firm CB Insights, venture and equity financing for edtech start-ups worldwide rocketed to $2.98 billion last year, up from about $1.87 billion in 2014, compared to a total of $128.6 billion for total funding to VC backed companies in 2015. But we must be cautious about projecting, and especially about extrapolating, this into the future, particularly for 2016 as the overall tech sector in Silicon Valley (and elsewhere) shows signs of cooling off, and we should not expect edtech to go unaffected by these larger trends. Q1-2016 numbers from CB Insights already show some “cooling off” in edtech, so it will be interesting to see how much, and for how long, a slow-down will continue.

My interest in edtech goes back many years, as I have been involved in education, learning and training related research and consulting at Strategic Business Insights (a spinout from SRI International) for more than 15 years. And when I started seeing growing edtech activity in Silicon Valley, including the growing interest in edtech by students at Stanford’s Graduate School of Education, I started wondering whether the same trends and developments were present in the Nordic region. I raised this question with my friends at Nordic Innovation—a funding agency for applied research in the Nordic region—and the result was funding for the 2012/13 Nordic Edupreneuring project, “owned” by the Future Learning Lab at University of Agder UiA.

In the Nordic Edupreneuring project, we identified, profiled, and evaluated around 50 Nordic EdTech companies and also held a “market acceleration workshop” in connection with the annual Future Learning Lab conference held at UiA in April, 2013 [the next, and fifth, conference will be held in Norway on June 14-16 [http://wls.futurelearninglab.org/], and edtech will be one of our three tracks]. We found many interesting companies and some of the Nordic edtech companies that are getting considerable media attention these days, such as Kahoots and WriteReader, were at our UiA workshop. Many of the 50 companies we examined had interesting technologies and products/services, but many lacked the focus and global market intelligence and understanding needed to go up against international competitors.

We also found that all the Nordic edupreneurs we talked to were very keen on connecting with other edupreneurs in other Nordic countries, and knew relatively little about what was going on in the Nordic countries other than their own. This pointed to an obvious need and gap to be filled, and the idea of a Nordic EdTech Network (NEN) and community was born. For 2-3 years, every time I visited Oslo, I stopped by Nordic Innovation and argue the case for a project that would build on and extend what we did in the Nordic Edupreneuring project. When the former Managing Director of Nordic Innovation, Roger Moe Bjorgan (the new Managing Director, a former Danish Minister, Carina Christensen, took over from Bjorgan in October, 2015), visited Silicon Valley in June, 2015, we finally were given a “green light” and asked to submit a project proposal, followed by a decision in October to fund the project (“owned” by Silicon Vikings). I have to admit that the subsequent process involved in getting the signed contract—which would make the project “official” so we could really start the work—took a LOT longer than any of us expected and was, of course, also very frustrating, and exactly a year after Roger Bjorgan gave us the green light, the signed contract was completed, so we can now accelerate the work. You can read more about the project, the team we have, and the activities, resources and plans we have, by visiting our website.

Very briefly, this is some of what we are planning for the project:

  • Documenting the existing Nordic EdTech landscape. For this, we need details on the players in each of the Nordic countries. We are just now launching this work, but we are happy to share some of the data we currently have—http://net.futurelearninglab.org/nordic-edtech-companies-work-in-progress/—so anyone can see what we have and (hopefully) let us know what corrections/deletions/additions we need to make. We look forward to hearing from anyone who have information and/or comments and observations (and contact information for all team members are on the project website).
  • Examining Nordic Industry Dynamics and Emergent Ecosystem. This kind of analysis will, of course, require much more data and information about the Nordic EdTech companies and players in the evolving ecosystem, so we can not only understand their evolution so far, but also start exploring what may lie ahead. We suspect that these insights will come in the second half of 2016.
  • Share Nordic EdTech Insights. We will do this in many ways, including via our blog, our podcasts (with interviews of prominent EdTech entrepreneurs from the Nordics and Silicon Valley, as well as other EdTech ecosystem players, such as insightful analysts). We will also have webinars with the same kind of players, and these webinars will give attendees a chance to interact with the speakers.
  • Encouraging and Enabling Nordic EdTech Interaction. Some of this will happen via our website, but we will also plan to have a number of (physical) F2F events, including at upcoming conferences in the Nordics, including the annual conference at UiA, i.e. the World Learning Summit 2016 [http://wls.futurelearninglab.org/]
  • Creating a Sustainable Nordic EdTech Community. Although our project lasts until June 2017, we are confident that one or more of a number of highly qualified organizations—including, the Future Learning Lab—will be able to take over leadership and guidance of the network at the conclusion of our project.

We look greatly forward to the year ahead and the work we will be involved in and the many insights we will hopefully generate as our data and understanding of the Nordic EdTech industry improves. And it will be interesting to look back and compare this year’s findings to what we learned in the Nordic Edupreneuring project. Just briefly, here are some of the conclusions from that project, which I presented at the Future Learning Lab conference in 2013 at University of Agder (UiA) in 2013:

  • Almost 60% or the companies that participated in our survey characterized themselves as focusing on game-based learning, followed by mobile learning and online learning tools
  • Most companies targeted multiple market segments—including K12, HE, Kindergarten, corporate and public sector—but such multi-sector targeting is usually highly problematic
  • Similarly, most companies also targeted countries in Europe, North America and Asia—another VERY challenging strategy (that risks running out of funds very rapidly)
  • The Nordic Edurpreneuring project found the Future Challenges for Nordic EdTech companies to include those shown in the box below:

While the project team is very knowledgeable about EdTech and the Nordic region, the project analysis and insights we generate during the year will be very much stronger if we gain strong participation from anyone who is knowledgeable about and active in the Nordic EdTech industry, many of whom are likely on the front lines of the industry, and perhaps already active nationally, regionally and globally. Hearing about your experiences and having others pitch in and comment on what you experience, see and hear will help grow the collective strength of the Nordic EdTech community as well as the strength of individual players. We look forward to hearing from you and interacting with you in various ways in 2016 and beyond.

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Don’t blink or you’ll miss your chance at the most commonly used tech visa…

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Don’t blink or you’ll miss your chance at the most commonly used tech visa…

Despite rhetoric about the US having a “tradition of welcoming immigrants from around the world,” the release of official strategies to ensure that America continues “to lead as the world’s most innovative economy, to develop the industries of the future, and to harness innovation to help address our Nation’s most important challenges,” and countless bills being introduced to revise all or parts of the US immigration system and endless talk of new startup visas, no actions have in actuality been taken that make visas easier to obtain for startup founders and tech professionals.  The opposite, in fact, is true as the US Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) has implemented new policy memorandum that re-interpret many existing laws in more restrictive ways over the past two decades.  Navigating the immigration minefield is the key to successfully establishing or expanding your tech company in the US.  Don’t blink or you’ll miss your chance at the most commonly used tech visa…it's only available for one week!

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Discovering and Profiling Nordic EdTech Companies: Case study in Emerging Business Intelligence Tools

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Discovering and Profiling Nordic EdTech Companies: Case study in Emerging Business Intelligence Tools

Startups are emerging that make it easier and faster to gather market intelligence, offering sophisticated tools that can help you to gain a better overview of the market landscape, including information about competitors you may not known about. This post explores what my experience has been, so far, with some of these tools--including those from an Estonian startup, Funderbeam--when applied to a current project we have on Nordic EdTech

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