Why ‘Silicon Beach’ is a stupid concept

Published 07 March 2013 08:09, Updated 29 May 2013 11:54

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Why ‘Silicon Beach’ is a stupid concept

“I’m confident that none of the innovation output in Silicon Valley is geared towards the 240 million Indonesians sitting on our back door,” says biotech entrepreneur Chris Behrenbruch.

I’m vaguely amused when I read articles comparing innovation hotspots around the globe to Silicon Valley – “Silicon Glen”, “Silicon Roundabout”, “Silicon Allee” … even “Silicon Taiga”.Countless have attempted to elucidate why the San Francisco Bay area is such an amazing tech landmark. We’d all love to replicate the DNA of Silicon Valley but this is not only impractical, it’s not even a good idea. California will always be a great hotspot but the world’s epicentre is now the Indo-Pacific, not the north Atlantic.

Australia has unprecedented connectivity with Asia. And our economic future is already entwined with ASEAN, Japan and China. As such, we need a unique strategy for building a knowledge economy around regional opportunities. I’m confident that none of the innovation output in Silicon Valley is geared towards the 240 million Indonesians sitting on our back door, or the 700 million people within a three-hour flying radius of Singapore. Silicon Valley has strong ties to Asian manufacturing but US firms don’t dominate the Asian technology landscape, Asian firms do. Witness intellectual property scrapping between Samsung and Apple in our own High Court.

When I say Silicon Beach is a dumb idea, I’m not pooh-poohing the nurturing of innovation hubs in Australia. Not at all Sydney has some amazing success stories in IT, Brisbane and Melbourne are starting to establish nice biotech clusters that are delivering world-class innovation (Melbourne also has phenomenal coffee, a vital entrepreneurial fuel) and there is growing critical mass in advanced materials and photonics around Adelaide. As such, prefacing our innovation strategy with “Silicon” is simply a distracting allegiance to an innovation environment that we don’t have to aspire to. Besides, all beaches have silicon - it’s called “sand”.

What we do need to do is start thinking critically about the major markets that are part and parcel of our regional sphere of influence, and start adjusting our business plans – and branding – accordingly.

Anyone for “Tech Kampong?”

Chris Behrenbruch is a biotech entrepreneur who splits his time between Los Angeles, Singapore and Melbourne.

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