”Silicon Valley is more than a place, its a state of mind”

Article of the month

Helsinki, 1 December, 2002 — ”Silicon Valley is more than a place, its a state of mind”

In November, twenty Finnish Digital Media in Business Program participants spent an interesting three week period in California, San Francisco and Silicon Valley area in order to attend lessons, visit companies and universities, and to participate in networking meetings. Why Silicon Valley? Simply because it is the place to be if you are interested in information technology, if you want to see where it all started from, and if you want to know what really is going on in the ITC-business.

In November, twenty Finnish Digital Media in Business Program participants spent an interesting three week period in California, San Francisco and Silicon Valley area in order to attend lessons, visit companies and universities, and to participate in networking meetings. Why Silicon Valley? Simply because it is the place to be if you are interested in information technology, if you want to see where it all started from, and if you want to know what really is going on in the ITC-business.

Silicon Valley’s history began about half a century ago when Stanford University had some financial problems. The authorities of the university tried to solve the problems by leasing part of the university’s land to high-tech companies for 99 years. The phrase Silicon Valley first appeared in 1971, at the same time when Intel introduced the first microprocessor. From the very beginning till today, has Silicon Valley been business incubator for such companies as Hewlett-Packard, Fairchild, Apple, Oracle, Cisco, Netscape, and many more. In Silicon Valley people are very proud of Valley’s history. During our company visits we heard many stories about companies that have started in the garages somewhere in the Silicon Valley’s field.

First Gold Diggers, Then High Tech Professionals

California has always somehow attracted entrepreneurial people. In the past they were gold diggers and today they are high tech professionals. Nowadays in the Silicon Valley area operates about 6 000 high tech companies and work 2 million people. One third of the top 100 US high tech companies operates in the area and 25% of all Internet traffic originates from Silicon Valley. It is central marketplace for high tech and it is the place where new innovations and products are usually introduced first.

Finnish companies and our information society are also well presented in the Bay Area. Nokia and Linux may be the best-known Finnish innovators having paved the way to others. However, there seems to be general interest towards Finnish high tech companies, and Finland has been brought up as the model country of information society development.

During our trip we had a change to visit the Finnish company SSH Communications Security. We also had an opportunity to meet numerous representatives of Finnish companies, like MadOnion, Nexit Ventures, and Nokia. Finnish companies consider it important to be present in the Silicon Valley because all the rivals are there. It is not, however, an easy place to start a company and, as one of the Finns said, “Adapt, or stay away.”

Fierce Competition, Yet Relaxed Atmosphere

Everybody has heard stories about very relaxed Californian life style and managers wearing jeans and T-shirt. Even though people in the Silicon Valley seem relaxed, their appearance may signal leisure, the spirit of the Valley is very competitive, entrepreneurial, knowledgeable, and people work hard for the success. Risk taking is way of life and failing is not the end of the world as long as you learn through your mistakes and do not repeat them.

Even though the venture capital markets have fallen after the bubble burst, attracted the Bay Area still the largest share of VC funding ($1.8 billion, 28%) in the US. New innovations and applications have good opportunities to get funded in the Silicon Valley. At least everybody is free to try but the competition is very hard, and companies also die all the time.

Networking a Key Element

Networking and active exchange of information is a very characteristic way of working in the Silicon Valley. There are many companies and non-profit organizations, which initiate meetings around certain topics. One of the organizations is Silicon Valley Web Guild. Meetings are called Special Interest Group (SIG) meetings. People who are interested in the same topic have a good opportunity to meet and to participate in discussions. These events are also a channel for job hunting for people who are looking for new employment opportunities or companies that are hiring new personnel. The meeting usually starts with general announcements (jobs, etc.), and then there is a presentation about the current topic. After the presentation, there is time for questions and networking. These meetings are like the Californians themselves, very informal and easy-going but especially discussions may get very intensive among the peers. In the Silicon Valley it seems that everybody knows each other, and that is very important because even if companies are rivals today, they may be partners tomorrow.

So what is it that makes Silicon Valley so special from all other places? Discounting the great weather, I would say it is the very spirit that attracts people and drives them forward. Despite the economic decline that has shaken also Silicon Valley, there prevails a very positive and forward-looking atmosphere that very easily bites you too. After spending three weeks in Silicon Valley visiting companies, meeting people, and observing eyes wide open everything around me, I am ready to sign the slogan “Silicon Valley is more than a place - its a state of mind.”

Anu-Kaisa Aakula
Finnish Information Society Development Centre
anu-kaisa.aakula@tieke.fi

More information
anu-kaisa.aakula@tieke.fi
http//www.webguid.org