Why Silicon Valley Should be Called Innovation Valley

(L-R) Eric Witherspoon and Doug Soloman.
(L-R) Eric Witherspoon and Doug Soloman.
Why is Silicon Valley the world center for innovation? How does innovation continue to thrive there? How do you create and maintain an innovative culture? Why is San Francisco becoming so attractive to startups? Is New York City poised to be the next Silicon Valley?

These and other thought-provoking questions were the topics of discussion on a recent episode of Inside Silicon Valley, a public affairs program that explores the trends, challenges and opportunities facing the region. Hosted by Joint Venture Silicon Valley President and CEO Russell Hancock, Inside Silicon Valley airs each week on radio station KLIV 1590 AM in San Jose.

Recently, I was honored to join Russell on the program as a guest, along with Doug Solomon, an innovation consultant and former CTO at IDEO. Hancock opened the show by proclaiming that Silicon Valley should really be called “Innovation Valley” as it continues to spawn innovations that transform the world. In the next 50 minutes, Solomon and I discussed with Hancock how and why innovation thrives in the Valley, citing the highly talented people, a technology-based culture, high levels of optimism, startup aspirations, and “permeable walls” between Silicon Valley corporations and academia. Of course, there is also the deep-rooted requisite innovation ecosystem:  money, investors, willingness to mentor young entrepreneurs and young companies, willingness to take risks for chance of great gains, the acceptance (and even celebration) of failure, and the chance to create great value and change the future.

But how do you sustain that innovation ecosystem in-house? Being in the Office of the CTO at one of Silicon Valley’s iconic technology companies, I get asked this question quite often.   At Applied Materials, innovation is naturally embedded in our DNA, but we are always working to expand our own innovation ecosystem, through both internal and external collaboration.

For example, we have recently launched a global crowd-sourcing platform, called IdeaBuilder, which provides an opportunity for innovators across the company to collaborate on new ideas to address high value problems.  We also showcase employee innovations at InnovationMob events, which are casual, structured forums for innovators to present their ideas to their peers and the management team.  We also continue to enhance our “Innovator in Action” program that brings together leading innovators from across the company in an entrepreneurial context.  From these efforts, we’ve identified $3B in new revenue opportunity, along with issuing numerous inventions and patents. 

These programs build on the strong base of worldwide talent already in the company, but we also recognize the untapped potential of ideas and people from outside our four walls.  Collaboration between groups and the movement of people between companies was critical to the early success of some of the Valley’s most recognizable names and is happening today on a global scale.  Silicon Valley has established itself as the central hub of technology innovation, and we are a magnet for great ideas and top talent worldwide.  At Applied Materials, recruiting new talent into our ranks is a critical priority and is why more than 25% of our new hires are new college graduates from top universities worldwide. We also have extensive partnerships with global universities, industry consortia and research institutes, and our Applied Ventures group is highly engaged with startups.

While Silicon Valley retains its status as the worldwide hub of innovation, we can only remain there by recognizing how much innovation now takes place outside the Valley.  This is how the Valley’s most successful companies, venture capitalists and entrepreneurs continue to lead the way. The largest markets for innovation are increasingly outside this country.

Hancock closed the show by asking: What’s the best way to ignite innovation? My reply was: Get out of the office! Go engage with customers around the world and see what innovation is happening elsewhere!

To hear the rest of the program including why New York City may or may not be the next Silicon Valley, you can download a free podcast of the entire radio show on the Inside Silicon Valley iTunes page.

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