Picture used by GABA, the organizors of the conference

On Wednesday and Thursday I went to the “Building Innovation Bridges between Silicon Valley and Europe” Conference. It was very nice to meet all these European people here in the Bay Area. I liked the first day meeting in Google headquarters (these are actually several buildings, it reminded me a little bit the one of Intel). It was very stimulating listening to Alberto Savoia, Director of Engineering at Google and the extreme innovation concept. Among other things, I think it’s a fantastic idea what Google does with their employees and the 20% rule, in which they can work in whatever project they have created on aprox. 1/5 of his time. It’s just a great example to encourage intrapreneurship, and being successful.

On the next day there were several panels. They were very knowledgeable, however I would have to say that I was not very satisfied with the couple of questions I did. I have to say though, that I’m now more interested on policy making than business strategies, so here my bias. The first question was to a one to a panel of 5 experts in Venture Capital and Business Angels, was “How can we improve the ‘ecosystem’ (the always use this word here) the European cities in order to have investors invest in our own young people, such as young engineers who would like to start a business?” They dodged the question, I think basically because they don’t care about European cities. The only thing they basically answered was something like “send your kids here, pay us, and we will teach them how to innovate”. Somewhat egocentric.

My second question was directed to a panel of representatives of of several European organizations, the majority subsidized by the national governments (Denmark, Ireland, Germany, Finland, Italy, and others in the room present, Estonia, France, the Netherlands, UK, Czech Republic, etc.). My question was something like: “The majority of your organizations are specialized in bringing European entrepreneurs to the Silicon Valley… (some nod their head). We talk about bridges, and that bridges are for traffic in both directions. In a previous panel a successful European entrepreneur here said that in 20 years, never a politician or any organization has asked to come back. He said he would really think about it if being asked. China, who has been mentioned here several times about being a strong competitor, has a strong policy of sending people abroad and really building bridges with their people, so they can give/come back. Does any of you, or do you know about any organization who assists entrepreneurs to bring back to Europe?”. They avoid the question, and basically it was “no”. Which I found somewhat disturbing.

Everyone wants to be wanted. I think that this is something we’re missing. There is an amazing knowledge overseas, who could really help back at home, but they’re completely forgotten. To put an example, more than a century ago when they wanted to electrify the country, they did not know how to do it. Then they made efforts to recruit Scandinavians who had worked in the U.S. cities setting up the electric grid. They came back and helped in a crucial sector. (Jensen, Johnson, Lorenz & Lundvall, 2007. “Forms of Knowledge, Modes of Innovation and Innovation Systems”, Research Policy. Vol. 36 ( 5), 680-693.). People felt wanted. I know this also from me personal experience. My father he’s originally from Ecuador. He has always dreamed of going back there since he left in the 1970’s. He would be the most happy man in the world if his home country would ask him to do something. In fact in one occasion they asked them to do something and he really devoted his heart to do it.

I think there is a lot of potential in that strategy. Reinhard Bütikofer, a politician from the EU Parliament, he picked the idea and suggested some stuff in that line. Like inviting some successful expats entrepreneurs in America, to come back to Europe to give some presentations to EU entrepreneurs.

All in all, it was a good conference. GABA is very nice organization and I wish them the best. But we should be careful, as an American guy told me, to do not “drink the kool-aid” that many here in Silicon Valley are trying to sell. We need to take an effort to learn from these amazing firms, but also keep in mind that, innovation is NOT only high-tech.

Now I have to write a lot of people, I got plenty of cards after asking the questions.