By Bruce Colbourne, Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science, Memorial University:
One of my favourite models for the discussion about ocean technology cluster expansion is Silicon Valley and, in particular, Stanford University’s role in incubating and sustaining Silicon Valley. Everyone admires Silicon Valley. It is an undeniably successful technology cluster, and the university at the centre of it played a clear and valuable role.
“Scholar Examines Links Between Stanford, Silicon Valley,” an article in the Stanford Report, identifies Stanford’s role and the many other factors that contribute to that vibrant industrial cluster. These include the following checklist:
- a highly educated workforce;
- a culture that rewards risk-taking;
- a spirit of community collaboration;
- the availability of financial resources; a desirable quality of life;
- government support of research and funding for specific industries;
- university encouragement of entrepreneurial spirit and collaboration with industry; and
- local institutions which provide forums for the exchange of information among competing firms.
We can use this list as a checklist for our own efforts, even though we’re working in a different technology area. Some of these things we have, and some we can work towards. Many other jurisdictions look longingly at Silicon Valley and try to copy their success. Like us, they put money into research, tax incentives and universities and hope the rest will follow. Most often it does not—so far, there is only one Silicon Valley. Clearly, relocating the model has some pitfalls.
Some of the items on the list speak of culture and spirit, two elements that are much harder to emulate or relocate. Frederick Terman, former Provost of Stanford University and the person who is generally recognized as the father of Silicon Valley, developed a strategy based on focusing on technical niches, developing superb university research programmes and attracting federal and corporate funding. This strategy is articulated in “Stop Dreaming of a New Silicon Valley” in The Financial Times. By itself, this strategy would have probably built a fine university. However, it was successful in spawning an industrial cluster because the culture, developed at Stanford and infused into Silicon Valley, supported that focus and then went on to actually reward risk-taking.
That culture also developed a spirit of community collaboration, encouraged entrepreneurial spirit and embraced collaboration with industry.
As we work through the Silicon Valley checklist, as so many others are doing, we would do well to realize that we need to start developing that culture to achieve the broad success we want.