Just Found: Chicago Has Ingredients to be Next “Silicon Valley”

In an April 9, 2012, Crain’s Chicago Business Op-Ed, Victor W. Hwang (@rainforestbook) emphasizes that a city must have both the right ingredients and the correct recipe to produce the environment to become the next Silicon Valley.  With respect to Chicago, Mr. Hwang argues that Chicago has the ingredients – “talent, capital, and technology” – but needs to focus on getting “the recipe right.”  To do so, he suggests Chicago needs to “enhance diverse peer interactions, rise above tribalism, empower role models and create social feedback loops that reward dreaming, collaboration, risk-taking, community and trust.”

Does Chicago want to be the next Silicon Valley?  What does it mean to be a “Silicon Valley?”  From my perspective, we use the term “Silicon Valley” loosely.  I do not believe there will be an exact duplicate of a Silicon Valley – you simply do not have the same geographic location or local culture and attitude to produce an exact duplicate.  No city or region can reproduce the history of what makes Silicon Valley Silicon Valley.  Indeed, many people from across the world migrate to Silicon Valley because of its essence that has been formed, in no small part, by what-has-come-before.

No, Silicon Valley cannot be perfectly replicated.  But, this does not bother me.  For, with respect to Chicago, I do not want Chicago to supplant its own uniqueness to become something other than what it happens to be – THE Second City.

But, I do not believe this is what Mr. Hwang means when he talks about being the next “Silicon Valley.”  Rather, I believe Mr. Hwang uses “Silicon Valley” loosely to mean an environment that serves as an incubator in which brilliant ideas emerge and grow with organic nutrients; young startups attract financial backing to help nurture their ideas into unique and idiosyncratic companies with sustaining sub-cultures; product and service excitement attract talent and personnel to help fuel growth and, perhaps, IPOs; and, an inherent atmosphere that facilitates trust and collaboration.

If the foregoing represents what it means to become the next “Silicon Valley,” then Chicago certainly does possess the ingredients to do so.  Further, I agree that the right balance of ingredients will create such an environment to produce the next wonders of the startup and technology world.  But, Chicago also has features and history absent from other locations – like Silicon Valley – that could enable it to become incredibly unique as a Startup Foundry.

Chicago can create an intriguing mixture of startup growth in social media and tech companies as well as growth of startups in other sectors for which Chicago has its own powerful history – manufacturing, steel, transportation.  Indeed, Chicago is our nation’s hub – and it also can be the nation’s Startup Hub.  Of this I am excited to be a part.

But, we need to arrive at something other than using “Silicon Valley” as a descriptor of what will be elsewhere away from Silicon Valley.  For, using the term for that “somewhere else” inextricably binds the roots in that “somewhere else” from finding and making their own example of what can be.

About Charles Mudd

Charles Lee Mudd Jr. is the principal of Mudd Law Offices, an internationally recognized diversified practice providing representation to a clientele comprised of local, national, and international individuals and business organizations. Charles represents startup companies in a variety of legal and commercial matters. He is also the founder and co-host of Startup Radio, an Internet blog radio program.