Can the UK ever compete with Silicon Valley?

We read this morning that Milo Yiannopoulos, the free-lance tech journalist and sometime Telegraph columnist will be launching a transatlantic ‘Fund / Accelerator’ scheme for British Start Ups. The idea being, Yinanopoulos and co will take British firms and aim to launch them Stateside, primarily in and around Silicon Valley. On the surface that all sounds very positive, but after mulling it over a little while longer, a number of flaws became apparent. A primary area of concern being, yet again, instead of offering the right platform to nurture tech start ups in this country, we’d rather allow them to jump ship.

There’s no doubting the area just south of San Francisco known as Silicon Valley is an incredibly fertile location from which to base a new venture. However, whether ‘Hipster Ventures’ have the nous and expertise to really infiltrate this tight knit community remains to be seen. It is their intention to build buzz around new companies and products in the key Bay Area early adopter market, although it currently remains unclear whether these companies’ base will remain in the UK.

 

It seems easier to add more fuel on an already raging fire than to keep striking the flints of UK Enterprise, and for me personally, it signals yet another sad indictment of where we really are as a nation of entrepreneurs.

Arguably, one of the hottest tech start ups the UK has produced in recent years, Huddle.net, relocated to the West coast only a matter of months ago. Although launched in the UK, a substantial chunk of the company’s revenue comes from US clients, which is what subsequently led the directors to reposition in San Francisco. Huddle opened its American base with the help of $10.2m funding from Matrix Partners, something they’ve publicly stated was hard to secure on UK soil. This predicament is not new. Bebo cofounder, Michael Birch left London for San Francisco a few years back, and speaking to Wired magazine last month he made some fine points.

He said, “If people understand other people’s experiences and what they went through to achieve what they did, then the perception of them, should they try something and fail, will not be as negative as it currently is in the UK. Particularly in the UK, if you do something and it doesn’t work out, it’s more likely that your friends will say, ‘I told you so’, rather than, ‘You must have learned a lot, I bet you’re going to have another go at that’. Whereas, in America, no one would expect you to actually quit if you tried building a business and it didn’t work. It’s sort of expected you’d be having another go. I guess there’s a greater understanding that that’s part of the journey”

Finnish-born entrepreneur, Marten Mickos tells a similar story, “It’s always dangerous to make generalisations, but in the US, in the San Francisco Bay area, there is a much bigger tolerance of failure. Failure isn’t seen as a fatal event but rather as a stepping stone or a learning moment for going on to whatever you do next. In Europe, failure isn’t accepted. People think if someone fails, it means that person is bad.”

This is a misconception we fundamentally need to change in this country. We also need more forums and independent groups of successful entrepreneurs, clubbing together and helping develop a new culture which they then lead from the front. A culture that encourages trying, and in turn helps those people who are prepared to try – offering them incentives and encouragement, and everything possible to help give these people the best chance possible of success.

StartUp Britain which launched a little over six weeks ago looks to help promote this ideology. Speaking to Duncan Cheatle, one of the founding members of StartUp Britain, he said “If UK companies can go to the States, learn, be inspired, and come back to base their business’ on home soil, then what Hipster Ventures intend to do can only be beneficial. Ollie Barret, another member of StartUp Britain, actually takes a group over to Silicon Valley each year as part of a venture called ‘Web Mission’, and the people who attend this say they find it very useful indeed. There is simply a much larger peer group of likeminded individuals and companies in that part of the world.”

Duncan Cheatle of StartUp Britain

He continued, “That said, StartUp Britain is launching their mentoring scheme in coming weeks and thus far we have managed to match over a hundred people with suitable mentors. Then, it is our intention to have these young entrepreneurs who have acquired new knowledge to pass this on down the ladder.”

How big of an impact Hipster Ventures will make remains to be seen. The same can be said of StartUp Britain. What isn’t up for discussion however is the obvious need for Entrepreneurs, SMEs, Start Ups and large established companies to all work together, offering advice and expertise to one another. This is the only way we can hope to ever hope to change the somewhat old fashioned traditions that the UK still retains. Despite all our shouting about being an enterprising nation, in comparison to our over-excitable cousins in the U.S, it would seem some of us are still living in the Stone Age.

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