Why we are no Silicon Valley

In Economy on 22/05/2010 at 5:34 am

The recipes of other cities for creating the next Silicon Valley usually leave out a few main ingredients. Richard Florida, who wrote “The Rise of the Creative Class” and studies why certain cities foster creativity, cites three crucial factors: talented people and a high quality of life that keeps them around, technological expertise, and an open-mindedness about new ways of doing things, which often comes from a strong counterculture: extract from NYT on Boulder Colorado,.

We could do the first two like we do “instant” trees” or citizens: but a strong counterculture? Not that long ago, the government had problems with people with long hair. Today, it (and to be fair, society) has problems with drugs (long term imprisonment for users and sometimes death), alternative life-styles (read buggery and free love), and liberal democracy.

BTW, an ex-MIcrosoft strategist and now VC, earlier this week, was saying (according to Today)  that the Silicon Valley model was not for S’pore. He advocated something that sounded like that could have come out of USSR’s infamous five- year plans.

The way forward, especially for relatively small countries with financial transparency and access to “good capital”, is to pursue innovation mega-projects, he said.

In Singapore’s context, an official body could serve as “prime contractor” mapping the vision, plans, standards and project management for such a project.

It could then hire “sub-contractors” to take care of aspects like inventions, and products and services.

How would this approach differ from previous forays like the Economic Development Board’s efforts to create an innovation hub here?

The key difference is in not allowing companies to come in and integrate “at the company’s discretion”, said Mr Jung.

One of the last innovation mega- projects that Singapore tried to drive, and where “a lot of external people” were brought in, was the broadband information superhighway project. That was in the ’90s, when Mr Jung was with Microsoft.

He said the tech giant had sent a group to look at participating in the project.

“But there wasn’t a prime contractor. There was no one really driving that vision,” he said.

Going down the innovation mega -project path – which could range from healthcare to education to alternative energy – would be “a lower risk way of bringing lots of technology in, and probably seeing it actually succeed,” he said.

“So I’d like to see Singapore really try that. I think it’ll be interesting.”

Edward Jung claimed that  from his interaction with officials in local institutions, … said there seems to have been a rethink about pursuing this model [Silicon Valley].

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