Why London and New York must move out of The Valley’s shadow

Tech London Advocates founder Russ Shaw argues we need to stop trying to emulate Silicon Valley and instead embrace our unique strengths

Tech London Advocates’ recent New York gathering, which coincided with the Mayor of London’s tech mission to the East Coast, served as a timely reminder of London’s status as the world’s most exciting global digital hub.

With over 120 members of New York’s technology industry in attendance – including six of Boris Johnson’s London Tech Ambassadors – the event demonstrated the opportunities and challenges facing digital businesses in the US, and explored how greater trans-Atlantic collaboration between London and New York will serve to benefit both sectors.

Three global business pillars

The event comes at a time when London and New York, along with Silicon Valley, are widely recognised as the three leading global centres of technological innovation and development. Yet the relationship between them, as neither one of pure collaboration nor competition, remains complex.

Few industries can be so closely identified or considered synonymous with a specific region as the US tech industry can with Silicon Valley. The Valley is, quite simply, an institution – one with its own mentality, language and culture; a region that drives cutting-edge innovation yet is founded upon that age-old notion of the American Dream.

I say this not to discredit the achievements of London and New York who, over the past decade, have experienced nothing less than game-changing growth in their respective technology sectors. You only have to look at the figures: In the UK, Tech City’s recent Tech Nation report shows there was a 92% increase in new digital companies incorporated in the region between 2010 and 2013. New York’s digital industry meanwhile already generates nearly $125bn in output and $5.6bn in tax revenues annually.

Moving out of the shadow of Silicon Valley

I say this because both New York and London, as unique tech clusters with their own specialisms (think fintech for London and adtech for New York), cannot allow their identities to be determined by the Valley. For these clusters, seeking to be bigger and better, or aspiring to be Silicon Valley, is ultimately futile.

Of course, just like the burgeoning start-ups that occupy these hubs, it is natural for any new business or enterprise to look to either challenge or replicate the success of the market leader, or judge their progress against the market leader’s benchmark. This was evident at the Tech London Advocates event, where a number of speakers spoke of New York seeking to move out of Silicon Valley’s shadow.

Celebrating differentiation

But London and New York’s story does not replicate that of the Valley. London and New York are urban centres, with a focus on different forms of technology, and differing levels of investment, infrastructure, immigration, regulation and talent. They should take pride in this differentiation, and indeed they are already leaders in their own way – London as the tech capital of Europe, New York as the digital centre of the East Coast.

While Silicon Valley is experiencing a tech backlash from local residents, Londoners and New Yorkers are proud of the tech sector redefining the cities.

For London and New York’s digital hubs to truly realise their potential, they must identify their own unique strengths, weaknesses and opportunities. By doing so they will realise that they have much more in common with each other than they do the Valley, and that seeking to emulate or replicate Silicon Valley mustn’t be the end goal.

Russ Shaw is an angel and venture investor and founder of Tech London Advocates. He is moderating the finale of the London Enterprise Festival, which runs from 8-19 March 2015. See the full London Enterprise Festival schedule here

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