Silicon Insider: The Republic of Entrepreneurs


Same Valley, different game.

I spent last week in the England, first in London -- having dinner just a few blocks away from where the Russian dissident was eating polonium -- then on to the sixth annual Silicon Valley Comes to Oxford. SVCO is an event that began with a speech I gave about entrepreneurship at the Said Business School there (it was also one of my first columns) that has slowly turned into an annual institution, and one of the most popular events at the school.

The format is pretty straightforward: we invite a dozen-or-so leading Silicon Valley executives and entrepreneurs, typically on the cutting edge of new technologies or running hot new companies, to come and sit on a couple panels (one at lunchtime to the MBA students, the other in the evening to business executives from around the Thames Valley) and teach master classes in-between. There's also a cocktail party, high table dinner in one of the venerable colleges (this time it was Oriel), tours, etc.

For the students -- Said is rapidly becoming the heart of entrepreneurial education in Europe -- it's a chance to learn about the latest business opportunities, network with important industry players, and dream about starting your own company (and maybe move to Silicon Valley). For business attendees, it's a chance to learn about the hot new markets and the businesses pursuing them -- and sometimes about your new competitors (the Guardian newspaper, for example, held a private meeting with the panelists to discuss the future of newspapers).

For me, as the moderator of the luncheon roundtable, it's a chance to ask questions of tech's next superstars and get an early glimpse of the Next Big Thing, good or bad, in tech.

Last year, for example, though the theme was "social networks", the real story for me was the growing backlash against the success of Google. Watching Google's very smart new-business guy, Chris Sacca, fend off tough questions from the crowd, offered an early heads-up that the marketplace -- especially in Europe -- was beginning to fear the sheer financial, social and cultural power of the, until then warm and fuzzy, Google. Over the last twelve months, we've only seen that reaction grow in Europe, where the company's growing hegemony is not only seen as Microsoft II, but unlike here in the States, also evokes the standard anti-Americanism that lies just under the surface of European life these days.

This year, the theme was "mass collaboration", though it was barely discussed, perhaps because the subject has so completely penetrated Web reality in such a short time, that there wasn't really much to discuss.

Instead, the topic shifted to something even more interesting -- and far more exciting. It is that buried beneath all of the news about MySpace scandals and YouTube megabuck buy-outs, and all of the excitement about places like FaceBook and Yelp, there is a quiet business revolution going on in places like Silicon Valley. A unique nexus of a new competitive medium, changing entrepreneurial attitudes and an evolving business environment is leading to the rise of an entirely new entrepreneurial business model -- one that is likely to transform the entire world electronics industry over the next few years.

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