Does the best innovation in the world come from Silicon Valley?

For sure, many good things happen here.  But if you saw my last blog on diversity, you know I believe we need ideas coming from people with different backgrounds and experiences to truly solve world problems. I’ve also written about how Steve Case’s “The Third Wave” book inspired me to look for innovation in smaller towns.  With these two ideas in mind, I spent last week touring the Netherlands and meeting with startups in Groningen, Rotterdam, Delft and Amsterdam. What I found in these places surprised me.

Capital is Either Wings or an Anchor

We all know Silicon Valley’s reputation for venture capital. The baseline of an A round is much higher in the Valley than anywhere else, and the amount of money being put into companies is more than it’s ever been. We also know Silicon Valley’s “grow at all costs” mentality has led to some ethical challenges, such as Facebook’s ever-expanding consumer data collection or Amazon’s facial recognition technology being sold to government agencies. On the other hand, Silicon Valley has mastered the art of getting start-ups from launch to success quickly, and while the system isn’t perfect, it’s the best in the world.

Capital in Europe

  • Few VCs with deep pockets
  • Smaller investments
  • Risk-aversion means start-ups are cut off too soon
  • Investors tend to take a 40-50% stake on small amounts of investment
  • No room for future investors to have a meaningful stake

Europe has more government funds available

  • Government funds are good for cash to launch an idea
  • Government funds are bad for growing a company long-term
  • Government money is public money = risk aversion
  • Governments don’t know how to advise and grow tech start-ups

The Prince and the Potential

A breath of fresh air in all this is Prince Constantijn van Oranje’s Startup Delta organization. I had the honor of having dinner with Prince Constantijn in Groningen. He was kind enough to come three hours north during ski break week to meet with me. I am grateful for his time and humbled by his effort to meet this old guy!

Prince Constantijn has a true vision for the Netherlands that is powerful. In our meeting, he spoke about the potential of innovation in the Netherlands, but the investment climate I spoke about above tends to keep innovation at the “potential” stage and not full realization.

His organization is on a mission to transform potential into reality, and he’s willing to reach out to Silicon Valley to bridge the gap. I met further with one of his directors in Rotterdam, and I believe Startup Delta has tremendously smart people doing good things for the Netherlands.

In my next post, I’ll explore the kinds of innovation that are unique to the Netherlands vs. Silicon Valley. Then I’ll explore this question – is it even possible to blend the best of both cultures given the very different values of each country?