There’s been some interest in yesterday’s posting on Paul Graham’s essay, How to Be Silicon Valley, so I thought I’d answer some of the comments.
Other papers on Toronto as a high-tech hub
The first comment comes from an “Ethan” who chides me for not pointing to the following reports:
- High Technology Cluster Evolution: A Network Analysis of Canada’s Technology Triangle [764K PDF]
- Knowledge, Innovation and Regional Culture In Waterloo’s ICT Cluster [264K PDF]
I’ve seen the first paper but not the second, so thanks for the heads-up, Ethan!
It was Paul Graham’s essay that prompted me to think about the efforts of both ICT Toronto and the loose confederacy of the DemoCamp brain trust, so that’s what I chose to point to. Besides, as a plain old web page rather than a PDF file and an essay written with a more general audience in mind — both in terms of geography and technical expertise — I thought it would be a more interesting read. But yes, if you’re in this neck of the woods and are seriously interested in the area’s potential as a high-tech hub, definitely read those papers.
ICT Toronto and TRRA: Not the same
The Toronto Regional Research Alliance (TRRA) has been formed to attract new public and private sector research investment to the region. TRRA reports that “The region is leveraging about half the public research dollars per capita of provinces like Alberta, BC and Quebec”. TRRA will attempt to attract research driven companies to the region, focussing initially on the ICT and bio-pharma sectors. At the same time, the TRRA will work with leading companies in key sectors that have already chosen to locate here, in order to expand their regional presence. If it succeeds, over time it should be an effective organizing for kick-starting new research institutions in Toronto. TRRA will also implement “a strategic, high level recruitment campaign targeting 10-20 high-growth, international, R&D-based companies likely to be seeking a North American R&D location in the next 5 years”.
TRRA has developed support and momentum for its plans, and should be a valuable ally in the Toronto Region ICT Strategy [emphasis mine].
Only Silicon Valley can be Silicon Valley, and that’s okay
Ethan also states:
I mean, who doesn’t want to be the next Silicon valley? If it was easy or obvious, everyone would do it. You omit historical factors, like the presence of the first semiconductor companies, which seeded the explosion in tech companies and the large number of defense contractors laid off in the area at the end of the cold war. And let’s be blunt: the weather in the bay area doesn’t hurt. Toronto’s weather, well, it can hurt at times.
“If it was easy or obvious, everyone would do it?” That applies to anything worth doing, dude. Please tell me that you don’t spend your entire life sitting in front of the TV, eating corn chips and masturbating. Please.
I’m not saying that Toronto should play the metropolitan version of Single White Female and obsessively duplicate the Valley. Think of the apocryphal story of the clothing company that got their hands on a French designer jacket. They brought it to a sweat shop in Hong Kong and said “duplicate this!”. They did…right down to the cigarette burn on the sleeve.
There’s much to the Valley that we shouldn’t emulate, from the laughable public transit to the nothing-but-bedrooms-communities-and-strip-malls landscape to the comic book convention male-to-female ratio to the fact that if it weren’t for the yogurt in Odwalla smoothies, there might be no active culture. When Cory and I lived in San Francisco, we often went to meetings in the Valley, where’d we’d joke as we passed by the Six Flags on Highway 101: we referred to it “Six Flags Over Absolutely Nothing”. Jamie Zawinski, who worked for Netscape, summed it up perfectly in his polemic San Jose is Hell on Earth.
I think there’s room in the industry for more hubs. Consider film and TV production; although one thinks of Hollywood, there’s a lot going on in Vancouver and Toronto — collectively known as “Hollywood North”. While only Hollywood can be Hollywood, we do a helluva lot of film work here and we also play host to the Toronto Film Festival, which over the past couple of decades has risen from obscurity to big player on the film world stage.
Yes, Silicon Valley’s tech industry is the descendant of the semiconductor industry which in turn is the descendant of the aerospace and military industries. However, they aren’t absolute prerequisites; they were what attracted the right people to gather in the same place at that time. I believe that there are at least a handful of ways to attract the right crowd for the information and communications tech industry, and perhaps even the next big industry to follow it.
I’ve got to get back to work, so I’ll post more later. In the meantime, keep those cards and letters coming!