Entrepreneurship in Silicon Valley

David Singerman

When people think of entrepreneurship in the 21st century, they invariably think of Silicon Valley and the Bay Area. Other cities not only try to emulate it but try to rub some of its glitter onto their own entrepreneurial hubs: Silicon Alley in New York City, the Silicon Flatirons center at the University of Colorado Boulder.

In fact, it’s the Bay Area’s unique combination of factors that has led it to become the high-tech and venture capital center of the United States. The Bay Area is home to an intense concentration of top-notch research facilities: four University of California campuses, Stanford University, four Department of Energy labs, and a NASA research facility, plus many longstanding corporate R&D sites. In addition, the area has five Cal State campuses and 26 community colleges that can train a skilled workforce. These educational, governmental, and corporate organizations are part of the founding mythology of the Bay Area entrepreneurial ecosystem—all the way back to the 1870s, when Leland Stanford financed experiments to photograph a horse in motion.

The Horse in Motion
The Horse in Motion by Eadweard Muybridge: The horse Sallie Gardner, owned by Leland Stanford, running at a 1:40 pace over the Palo Alto track, 19 June 1878. Source: Wikimedia Commons.


But what about culture? Technology-focused companies around San Francisco have a reputation for their almost-ideological belief in the socially transformative power of technical innovations, especially computer networks. In the words of the Bay Area Science and Innovation Consortium, the region’s culture “is highly permeable, with few institutional barriers to the movement and combining of people and ideas.” A networked society, argues the historian Fred Turner, would be “an ideal society: decentralized, egalitarian, harmonious, and free.” This culture, Turner shows, came out of a small group of journalists, utopians, and entrepreneurs (most famously the environmentalist Stewart Brand) who took bohemian and utopian ideas from San Francisco and joined them to the corporate and educational resources available in the valley. This unique fusion helps explain why core technologies of the Cold War military-industrial complex—present in many places throughout the U.S.—here developed into a spectacularly vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Future Research

Gaining an understanding of the interplay among these unique cultural and research-related resources, and their associated entrepreneurial outcomes, will be of interest to CIT.ee researchers. We’ll examine a variety of data types to ascertain which attributes of the Valley can be emulated – and, perhaps more importantly, which can’t.