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Europe’s startups should collaborate like Silicon Valley firms

Europe should take a leaf out of Silicon Valley’s book on openness and collaboration, according to speakers at Startup Village 2015

Startups in Silicon Valley are successful due to openness and collaboration, which is something European companies should learn from, according to speakers at Startup Village in Moscow.

Startup Village took place on 2 and 3 June at Skolkovo Innovation Center, a hub for tech startups in the region that was developed to kick-start the Russian startup economy.

Gary Urteaga, founder and executive director of web platform and mobile applications project developer Holosens, said Silicon Valley is considered a successful hub for startups because the general attitude among entrepreneurs is that of “openness and collaboration”, which is something European businesses can lack.

“When I left Peru to start my first business I went to Silicon Valley and the openness was amazing. I was learning there and I made an amazing network of contacts, which enabled me to move from my first project, to the next one and the next one.

“The experience you get from not getting it right is what makes it right when you do it again. You have more motivation and drive after failing,” said Urteaga.

Urteaga said starting a business in a developed ecosystem is critical for its success, which is why firms do well in Silicon Valley. 

“You have access to services, technologies, investors and venture capitalists there. Silicon Valley is a unique place, but there are other places developing their own ecosystems with their own flavours of the world. It can be a challenge for entrepreneurs to access the resources they need to grow.

“You cannot drive growth without the right talent on board. It all comes down to the people. You need to bring the technical-minded together with the entrepreneur who has the passion to execute the problem in the real world,” he added.

Elaine Gold, director of organisation and strategy at social initiative Silatech, based in Qatar, recounted a meeting with a lady from Dubai who had visited Silicon Valley. 

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“There was a woman in Silicon Valley who was having coffee and discussing ideas and it very quickly developed into something. She said [the ideas] wouldn’t have developed as fast in Dubai, as startups are not a willing to share ideas there.

“There’s an energy in Silicon Valley – just having the money and fancy building doesn’t make it happen. It’s a mindset. You know your first project might fail, but you need to try again. Losing face is a big negative in the Middle East. If you go bankrupt you go to jail, so it’s hard to take risks if that’s the penalty,” she said.

Gold advised that to be a successful startup you need access to finance, good mentoring and people who understand the local culture.

“You can’t just take a cookie-cutting approach to what works in Silicon Valley and what works in Europe or the Middle East. Success comes when a company can adapt to the local culture they operate in.”

She added that there is a progressive startup hub developing in areas such as Beirut, Georgia and Palestine, with many US entrepreneurs coming back to the regions to invest in business there. 

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It is sort of a chicken and egg problem - developing software is easy if you have the ecosystem. But to get the ecosystem you need people collaborating to build software. If I were trying to build software in Eastern Europe right now, I'd like think to Sweden/Denmark (Nokia!) or Estonia (Skype!)

What moscow needs is a hot product company that funds other smaller companies ... and twenty-five years. Silly Valley was not built in a day. The cultural observations in the piece are spot-on, it's just that the puzzle is more complex than that.
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