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EYMD 2016: Do we have enough rebelious people to create the European Silicon Valley?

Posted on: 07.06.2016

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Strasbourg, May 20, EYMD 2016

Text by Marta Dancs, Hungary

Silicon Valley is considered to be the land of opportunities. Therefore, it seems logical that Europe should have one as well. But is there any chance to build up a European Silicon Valley in the times of acquisitions, brain drain and failures-next-to-the-success-stories? This kind of questions were raised in the Social challenge! session.

There are several European cities that grow significantly regarding the number of successful startups. Berlin is proud of Soundcloud, London gave birth to Onfido. Stockholm is the home of Spotify and Estonia wrote its name to the book of digital technology with Skype. Unicorn is the word for startups that started small and grew to be worth more than 1 billion dollar.

Karl Ryan from Google’s European Public Policy team started the discussion stating that everyone should be equal to dowload things, to have data protection or any other online aspect, no matter where the person lives. Unfortunately, there are still visible and invisible borders that exist but it is important to have one regulated system that allows Europe to compete better on the market.

It should be of course the offical bodies representing people who make the rules and the big companies need to obey. The Google tax-avoidance case in Ireland is for instance the dark side behind the popular company but in Karl’s opinion we should focus on the principles, not so much on the entreprises themselves because if they help people’s lives, it is much more important than the details. About startup financing he explained that Ireland has a lot of agencies ready to invest into ideas – it just takes some courage to reach out to them. Diversity is also essential for success, a good example is Google that tries to improve its female employment rate among engineers.

Hervé Lebret, Head of Entrepreneurship Unit in the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, emphasized the importance of a critical mass and interconnected people in one place to create a new Silicon Valley. It is not only about know-how and money, but also about rebellious personalities, who eventually produce genius ideas. Consequently, any city that wants to become the next IT hub has to welcome strangeness.

There is an obvious gap between the US and the EU when it comes to startup investment, however it has to do with the culture: in the EU the venture capitalists are considered to be bad people and this approach does not exist in US. European entrepreneurs are often afraid of losing control so they don’t contact VC’s. On the other hand it is true that in the US you can find investors for your idea more quickly than in Europe. But let us keep in mind that in America failing is not so demonized as in Europe, although getting bankrupt means the same thing on both continents.

Mairead McGuinness, Vice-President of European Parliament pointed out that if a startup fails, it is not necessarily the failure of the idea itself but can be the problem of organising – building up a startup requires different skills. As it was commented by someone in the audience, today’s children in the EU are not educated to become and to want to become entrepreneurs. And in these terms it is already good enough if we reach to the level of Silicon Valley, not overpass it.

Edie Lush, Executive Editor of Hub Culture, highlighted the phenomen of people going from one barbecue party to another to pitch about their business ideas. This kind of mentality is missing in Europe and proactivity helps in other ways as well: talking to people in the elevator can literally mean the path to our dream job, as in Edie’s story.

She also raised the issue that the startup-heaven San Francisco became unbelievably expensive to live in the last years and with this a lot of people benefited letting their places rent but others ended up on the street. Of course these kind of problems cannot be solved from one day to another, however the attempts to use technology and smart solutions to create a better future will never stop.

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