Dynamism and Networking Lacking in Silicon Fen?

Another factor relevant to new business launches in Silicon Fen is the belief that the region may lack the competitive dynamism and networking that appears to thrive in Silicon Valley.  It has been observed, with some truth, the scientists and engineers in the UK are somewhat reluctant to tread into new areas that have already been staked out by colleagues.  As a result, it is common to find that no more than a handful of researchers may be pursuing a particular lead or project at any one point in time.  In contrast, when a promising idea or technology is identified in Silicon Valley, several firms, often a dozen or more, may receive support from venture capitalists to engage in what become a rapid race to be the first to bring a product to market or develop a sustaining intellectual property portfolio around the new technology.  Those that do not succeed will either pass out of business or perhaps be acquired by the winner or a larger company interested in a shortcut to entering an emerging technology market.  Intense competition in Silicon Valley also co-exists with elaborate networks of collaborative arrangements between firms, a strategy that is particularly important to small companies that focus on R&D yet must look to others to complete other functions such as manufacturing and distribution.  In contrast, surveys show that links with local businesses are generally perceived as being unimportant by venture capitalists, universities and other research institutions in the UK.

As for networking, Huber’s study of 105 research and development workers, technology officers and managing directors working at 46 different hardware and software companies in Silicon Fen (Do Clusters Really Matter for Innovation Practices in Information Technology?: Questioning the Significance of Technological Knowledge Spillovers) revealed that informal social networking of the type that flourishes in Silicon Valley was generally thought to be unnecessary by his respondents and that most of them felt that they did not have the time required for networking to be effective.  Many of the respondents reported that they believed that their fields were too specialized to benefit from sharing and collecting ideas outside of their workplaces and those who were involved in activities that had a global focus were likely to go beyond their local community to interact with others around the world on knowledge-based issues using Internet communications tools.  In other words, online sharing was more important than face-to-face interaction within Silicon Fen and Huber’s findings cast doubts on the theory that clustering of firms working in related industries will generate positive “spillover” effects through sharing of news, ideas and best practices.

Koepp (Clusters of Creativity: Enduring Lessons on Innovation and Entrepreneurship from Silicon Valley and Europe’s Silicon Fen) makes the interesting argument that Silicon Fen entrepreneurs may be unwittingly influenced by the rewards and honors systems that has prevailed in Britain for centuries and that this may have an impact on how they manage their companies.  According to Koepp, entrepreneurs, including those who come directly out of the University, may consciously or unconsciously be striving to achieve titles and positions in Britain’s eternal social hierarchy and that this quest may become more important than the inventions created, products developed or revenues generated during the course of launching and building a firm.  Koepp conceded that the technology-based companies in Silicon Fen are likely more meritocratic than British corporations outside of the region, but cautioned that the larger social fabric of the nation must always be taken into account.

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