Learning from Silicon Valley: From California into the Mountain Valleys

An economy only makes progress as a result of “disruptive” developments, which render products that have been successful until that point obsolete. At least, this is what author Christoph Kees learned in Silicon Valley and subsequently wrote in his book. The Axel Springer publishing house in Zurich sent Kees, the former editor-in-chief of Financial Times Germany, to California to root out the newest trends. They did so because the trends they found were already obsolete by the time they reached Europe because a competitor was already on the market.

Kees, therefore, introduced his ideas in the Swiss Start-up Factory in Zurich on Thursday and wanted to demonstrate just how we can learn from the “valley of innovations.” Both Switzerland and Germany are masters of incremental development, or the gradual improvement of products such as clocks and automobiles. Reportedly, nothing disruptive has been produced for a long time and, when things have been developed, such as with the MP3 music format or the Internet, production has “drifted” across to America. This is supposedly because European companies have not wanted to support products that might endanger their own business models. In addition, the universities here are reportedly mostly satisfied if they have scientific or academic success – commercialization is apparently not as important.

Yet, Kees argues to the contrary: he would advise his children to realize their business ideas in California, despite the fact that the current state of the German economy indicates that this might be the wrong decision to make. An example he gives of a company disadvantaged by being located in Europe is myTaxi, the Hamburg-based company which organized lifts and rides for people. It had been in existence for a year and half when the German mobile app Uber, which is also used to organize spontaneous rides, was introduced. The company was, however, unable to secure funding and ultimately lost out to its competitor. Capital is, however, highly versatile and can seek out promising projects anywhere.

Switzerland should, therefore, concentrate on training up business-minded engineers and developing ideal conditions for those who wish to set up their own companies. Additionally, innovations should stop revolving around the advances in smartphone technology. Instead, completely new — disruptive — products should be developed.

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