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Silicon Valley 2016 Blog Series

Teams from the Class of 2017 are writing about their experiences in Silicon Valley as a part of the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Business Consulting Trip in a series of blogs. You are currently reading the sixth blog in the series. You can read their additional blogs by clicking on the buttons below.

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Blog 6: Top 10 things Ottawa can learn from Silicon Valley

Written by Amanda Dwyer, Team Sirius

The Class of 2017 Executive MBA candidates of Telfer School of Management have completed the final day of events, providing insight into the inner workings of the Silicon Valley ecosystem. Personally, I am coming out of this experience with a better appreciation for why Brandon Lee, Consul General of Canada called Silicon Valley the “Olympics of start-ups.”

With help from the cohort, I was able to pair down the ever-growing list of how Ottawa could learn from Silicon Valley.  One of the main comments of the week was the glorious weather in Silicon Valley, although unable to transfer this to any other ecosystem, the following  is a list of the “Top 10 things Ottawa can learn from Silicon Valley”:

500 Startups workshop

  1. Radical collaboration: Silicon Valley exemplifies an ecosystem fostering open innovation with a willingness to pay it forward.  Quite the contrary,  Ottawa is viewed as a conservative government town, with the need to step back and let innovation happen.  The conservativeness of the city fosters a less collaborative ecosystem and culture, impeding the desire to transfer lessons learned and knowledge from others.
  2. Create a corporate culture with excitement for work: Create an environment where innovation is part of the atmosphere, where outside the box thinking is encouraged.  An office space that is conducive to innovation would provide onsite perks, transparency in communication and collaboration.  This environment you can tackle and overcome the issues as a collaborative entity removing the sheer competitiveness which fosters a less cooperative unit as people are only looking out for themselves.
  3. Fail fast: Ottawa culture does not accept failure as a necessary passage to success whereas the SV fail fast model dictates failure as an ability to take risks. Learn to fail fast. To become effective and efficient, in start-ups, it is necessary to make mistakes and learn from them and pivot.  Not pivoting quick enough whether away from a bad idea or a different direction, can be the reason the idea or product fails.  Canadians take things too personally, emotionally tied to the idea which can be a limiting factor, this statement resonated throughout the week. 
  4. "High confidence is more exciting than false modesty" Bill Reichert, Managing Director Garage, VC: Canadians too often are concerned about coming across as arrogant.  However, based on the experiences of the week and the views of SV professionals, in most cases an aggressive, high confident Canadian rarely comes across as arrogant.   VCs will not invest in your start up unless you deliver a concise and confident competitive advantage.
  5. Networking is critical to success:  Throughout the week, we heard that generosity is the key to success, aligning to the quote by Keith Ferrazzi, “The currency of real networking is not greed but generosity.” With an established network within the ecosystem, there will be an ability to utilize current entrepreneurs, leveraging their knowledge as mentors, allowing innovators to build their brand.
  6. Adapt education to industry needs: Industry and technology are moving faster now than ever before.  Education needs to align with this innovative style, educating students with relevant case studies, setting up students for success. Partnerships within Silicon Valley, are prevalent, between industry and post-secondary education, producing an exceptional talent pool.  With this partnership would be to implement sales, B2B, and B2C within the curriculum which is relevant in most industries. 
  7. Perpetual sense of urgency:  Ottawa, being predominantly government, there is a lack of urgency. Marvin Lou, Partner at 500 Startups, stated in his opinion, Canada has a remarkable talent pool with an inability to get to market quickly. Innovation is taking a problem that is common, finding a solution, and getting it to market as quick as possible.  The cohort visited TechShop, a community-based environment for prototyping.  TechShop or something similar allows for prototyping at a fraction of the standard cost, an estimated savings of 98%.  This type of situation becomes a magnet to become a community of creative innovation. 
  8. Customer first: Innovation is taking a problem that is common, finding a solution, and getting it to market.  The product does not have to be perfect, yet, it does need to be the minimum viable product (MVP) to meet the needs of the customers. MVP enables the product or idea to get to market as quickly as possible generating cash flow and gaining the necessary user feedback.  Feedback allows for revisions of the product a continuous improvement cycle, continuously adapting to customers needs. 

Teams of Executive MBAs brainstorming

  1. Take risks: Canadians are risk adverse, typically looking for a stable job, yet industry and society change fast.  According to PWC, the challenge in Canadian start-ups is funding, investors scrutinize with many demands.  Mr. Reichert relayed the most efficient way to gain support is to engage three body parts, the head, the heart and the gut, with the most important being the heart.  Stop over analyzing, go with your heart; it will result in high success.  
  2. Stop trying to be Silicon Valley a refreshing statement from Richard B. Dasher, Ph.D., Director, US-Asia Technology Management Center:  One of the most enlightening presentations, Dr. Dasher explained it is impossible to replicate the Silicon Valley ecosystem elsewhere.  An ecosystem is a complex interdependent system that cannot be reproduced.   Ottawa’s approach should be to begin to understand what works for Ottawa.  Benchmarking with Silicon Valley and other leading innovative ecosystems, adopting a combination for what works best for Ottawa. 

The Telfer Executive MBA journey to Silicon Valley was advantageous to anyone considering becoming an entrepreneur or wanting to gain an appreciation for all that is Silicon Valley.   As the week progressed, I observed a spark ignited within my colleagues, discussing potential investments or start-ups, the desire to become more openly collaborative and the endless possibilities that await us all.



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