This year’s Latitude59 conference was opened by Tim Draper (DFJ), HRH The Duke of York (Pitch@Palace) and Taavi Rõivas, the Prime Minister of Estonia, who discussed the different ways countries could attract more talent – a panel moderated by our own Sten Tamkivi.

lat1Photo by Raigo Pajula

The goal of the panel was, simply put, to talk about places. Forty years ago, Silicon Valley was born – a magnificent opportunity for technology. However, in the last decade, the landscape of innovation has been changing.

There are over a million technology startups in the world, and according to research by Atomico, out of the 160 billion dollar tech companies around the planet, 60% are already outside Silicon Valley.

Now, startups can be anywhere, and they are. We want to understand what are the things Silicon Valley still excels in, and what are the chances for other places to compete with that.

The main questions addressed in the panel were:

  • Do we still need startup hubs?
  • What’s in them for startups?
  • What’s in it for countries and cities?

Here are some of the main points we plucked out of the conversation (check out a video of the full panel below):

Tim Draper:

  • Previous experience has shown that geographic borders are going to fall, and countries are going to have to compete for us.
  • Estonia was the first country in the world to recognize that there could be a virtual government, and developed a real plan for all of us to be citizens of the world – citizens that governments have to compete for.
  • Technology hubs are very valuable – not necessarily the ones that are government driven, but private initiations – they’re places where people can bump into each other, improve ideas, figure out what else going on in the world and allow the economic verve to grow.

HRH The Duke of York:

  • Technology hubs provide a shared workspace and an opportunity to meet like-minded people.
  • The private sector should do more – the government can’t lead, it needs to follow.
  • We need to get technology hubs to start, and then get the government to follow and support – that is the best way of organizing things.
  • Anybody who is starting up can start their business anywhere.
  • It’s only a matter of chance and a good idea by somebody – and a hub will grow.

Taavi Rõivas:

  • The task of the government is to be an enabler and keep up with the pace of startups.
  • The Estonian government has regular meetings with the local startup community.
  • With e-residency, we try to give an alternative to hubs – you can be more location independent and run your business while you live in multiple locations.
  • Today’s startups are tomorrow’s big players – some Estonian startups have already achieved the status of a unicorn, there are thousands of people working for startups, and we’re experiencing huge growth.

 

What’s a discussion about startups without a good pitch? Sten gave each of the panelists 60 seconds to argue why a startup should move to San Francisco, London or Tallinn.

Tim Draper for Silicon Valley:

  • To be honest, I’m not sure you should move to the Silicon Valley.
  • On the other hand, I love Silicon Valley – there are a lot of great startups and amazing technologies. At least go visit to see what your competition looks like.

HRH The Duke of York for London:

  • Coming to London is a stepping stone – of course if you’re looking to find a market, you’re going to go to a place that has that demographic number.
  • Nowadays, London has got a weight of numbers and success. If you look at where we are today in terms of relativity to where San Francisco was, we’re ahead of them.
  • There are still things we need to do to create great conditions, but in general, London is as good as place as any to get the startup feel.

Taavi Rõivas for Tallinn:

  • Sometimes the best ones to pitch for Estonia are the fans of the country, especially one gentleman who has described as as an estonishing country – the fastest, strongest, cleverest.
  • This actually describes our pursuit of perfection very well.
  • We need to work extra hard to fit into the picture, however, we are the most hassle free place to do business, and furthermore – here, you can afford yourself a decent home.

It’s said that true innovation happens when you have an alignment between different sides. Business in order, technology in order, a working legal system, the right design – a combination of aspects come together in products and companies.

So, to conclude, Sten asked the panelists for a forward looking comment – what’s the one thing governments and states could do to be a better place?

Tim Draper:

  • When there’s a new technology that comes along, the people who take it and apply it to changing market needs are the big winners.
  • Governments are ripe for transforming throughout the world, because right now they tend to offer the worst service at the highest cost.
  • There are now lots of things that can replace a big bureaucracy with just a fair computer.
  • I think governments are about to go through a major transformation, and Estonia is leading the pack.
  • We need to figure out how to take advantage of these new technologies – and then we will love the government again.

HRH The Duke of York:

  • The government should consider itself small, but at the same time understand that it is complex – and that complexity can be eased through the use of technology.
  • If the government sees itself that way, it will then get out of the way and let people innovate and get behind innovations.
  • It’s a hard point of whether a startup needs a distribution system or a supply chain. If you can get a business to start generating capital, it’s gonna have less need of vultures that come around – in the sense of venture capitalists, who have sometimes lost track of where their need is.
  • Finance isn’t everything, and investments need to be long term, because startups need encouragement in the long term.
  • When they get money, they need to understand how to use it, and they have to actually think a year or two ahead – it’s a much more difficult platform today.

Taavi Rõivas:

  • I’m glad that many governments actually look at what has been done in other places and are following.
  • Governments should stay away from being an obstacle for businesses and progress.
  • We’re doing our best to improve in that area in Estonia, and consider it self-evident.
  • We have a lot of entrepreneurial spirit, and our first success stories that encourage young people are happening right here.
  • The Estonian government should invest into education as the main thing – education in ICT, education in secondary level – all investments in education go to the right place and are future enablers of economic growth.

To conclude – technology hubs play an important role, but there will always be more than one, you will spend time in more than one and build startups in more than one.