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Is Innovation City still functioning?

Is Innovation City still functioning?


Having started my own technology company at the age of 14 and eventually acquiring mobile advertising startup Vungle by private equity firm Blackstone in 2019, I've always been interested in technology innovation. Now, especially since I'm in the real estate investment space and also investing in property technology (proptech) startups, that made me look closely at innovation cities and centers.

Traditionally, America's major innovation centers have been Silicon Valley south of San Francisco and Route 128 north of Boston, Massachusetts. But in recent decades, big innovations have also emerged in Austin, Texas, and other areas near big tech companies and universities, such as Seattle, Chicago, and Los Angeles.

The classic paper on innovation centers is Dr. Anna Lee Saxenian's book Regional Advantage, published by Harvard University Press in 1996, but new academic research has been published since then. Personally, I still believe in Ms. Saxenian's thesis: that culture plays an important factor in the creation of innovation and startups.

Simply put, Saxenian points out that in areas like Route 128, near the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard University, many of the high-tech companies there work for the Department of Defense (Department of Defense). ​, claimed that it was a traditional technology company. Companies such as Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC). The culture there in the '70s was East Coast formality, with people wearing long-sleeved dress shirts and ties to work, and a hierarchy that prevented young engineers from having access to bosses and investors. The financiers there were also generally wealthy from the Old World. In the technology industry, he had old companies like DEC and Polaroid, so he couldn't just bring his ideas to investors and pitch them.

Saxenian pointed out that the culture is really different on the West Coast. For example, Steve Jobs simply called Hewlett-Packard co-founder Bill Hewlett to find computer parts and was offered a job. Later, Nvidia's Jensen Huang held an inaugural meeting at a Denny's. Like clubs, restaurants in Silicon Valley and elsewhere are places where Silicon Valley technology founders, angel investors, venture capitalists, and professors from Stanford University, the University of California, Berkeley, and other universities in the region gather and pitch. It has become.

Over the years, the difference has diminished. Today, East Coast culture is more relaxed than it was in the '70s, and tech founders, angels, and VCs can just as easily meet in cafes and incubators in Boston or Cambridge. Similarly, this applies to Austin, Los Angeles, Chicago, and other areas. Fundamentally, fewer communication barriers and greater tolerance for failed startups breed innovation.

Not every startup founded becomes successful like Meta, Google, Nvidia, Uber, and other tech giants. But the fact that failure is tolerated and entrepreneurs are encouraged to try again through angel and venture funding is key. However, this also means that we occasionally see scams like Theranos and FTX/Alameda. But sometimes that's the price of seeing a successful tech giant. You need enough chaff to get enough wheat to separate.

Moreover, there is something more to face-to-face communication than what is said. The body language and instinctive cues we humans use to establish trust date back to our primitive survival instincts.

Unfortunately, the pandemic has introduced the concept of working from home and video conferencing, which has hindered this. There is now software that allows teams of developers to collaborate on projects. Of course, manufacturing hardware requires more in-person collaboration and actual prototyping in labs and factories, but design teams can now be located elsewhere.

On the other hand, artificial intelligence (AI) threatens to eliminate the jobs of certain innovators. His Twitter announcement for a company called Cognition Labs claims to have developed an AI software engineer called Devin that can do many of the things that human software engineers can do.

Whether their claims will actually replace human software engineers remains to be seen, but some experts argue that this is the direction we're headed anyway.

Is there still room for innovation in cities, regions, and even small districts? It's a bit complicated, but the short answer is yes. There is a lot of innovation work that can be subcontracted elsewhere and even to AI, but if you want to bring together young tech talent from academia, interested angel and VC investors, key technology suppliers, and consultants, at least for the time being Professors, we still need to do it in a place that accepts that these people are co-located in close proximity and that there is a culture of innovation.

Unless you meet and interact with an innovator hundreds of miles away, it's pretty hard to trust them enough to want to invest millions of dollars in their idea and grow it successfully. is. Of course, there are cases where that is happening, but if we want a critical mass of innovation, we typically need these innovation hotbed cities to continue to function and foster meaningful face-to-face communication and relationships.

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