What has Silicon Valley got that we haven’t got?

Steve Wozniak

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A topic came up in Podcast #3 the other day.  Adrian Weckler of the Sunday Business Post lamented the lack of startup success in Ireland, compared to Silicon Valley.  He mentioned the Collison brothers as a case in point. Stripe is their second startup, backed by serious investors and apparently on course for a direct hit.  But how come these Irish guys have to go around the world to score?  Why can’t we do this stuff here?

Here’s where Adrian and I disagree.  He says the problem is the lack of respect for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics among Irish people: kids, parents, schools, business, investors and government.  If you listen around 54 minutes into the podcast, he’s got a point, and Michele says it too.  Ireland, they say, doesn’t ‘get’ tech.

I’m not so sure.  I don’t think it’s about the tech.  I think Irish people like technology just fine – especially if it leads to a job with a US multinational.   One thing that strikes me from listening to American tech media: US techies don’t think their government or the wider community get it either!

What Americans do have however, is one place with a different culture.  A place with a history of innovation and success in technology.  A place that attracts not just technologists but the capital that they need.  A place where someone like Steve Jobs could grow up and meet Steve Wozniak.

I’m open to correction on this, but I don’t think producing more Science and Technology graduates is going to be enough by itself for Ireland to emulate Silicon Valley. Sure there are plenty of R&D and other high-skilled opportunities in the Irish operations of US companies.  But how many Irish engineers take their bonus (or severance payment) and sink it into a garage startup?  Who are the angel investors who encourage and support them?  How do we develop a culture of try, fail, and try again?  Do we need more technology graduates, or more imagination?

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