Route 128 vs. Silicon Valley: Stop the Noize!
[Updated and corrected, May 9, 2011–see below] We just came back from spending a week with 95 MIT students in Silicon Valley drinking from the West Coast Fire Hose of Entrepreneurship. Our theme was “East meets West: The Unification Study Tour.” For us, the theme worked well. But some of those out west, as well as some back in the east and in the press, preferred to pursue a competitive approach, which I find not only unattractive and destructive but also incorrect.
Most people love a competition with winners and losers where we can track them as they race along. We certainly love our rivalries: Red Sox vs. Yankees, Celtics vs. Lakers, and Patriots vs. Colts (oops—scratch that last one now). Some rappers had their own version of East Coast vs. West Coast. But these sorts of rivalries are not exactly how it works—especially with regard to innovation.
In 1980, Bob Metcalfe (esteemed MIT graduate & co-inventor of the Ethernet) came up with his now-famous Metcalfe’s Law. The essence of his insight is that the value of the network to each user is exponentially related to the number of nodes on the network. So rather than there being a zero-sum game with “competing” innovation ecosystems, in many aspects the opposite is in fact the case, especially in the new digital “flat world.” That is, the success of one area should enhance the success of another.
At MIT, we train our students to be great entrepreneurs globally, not just in Massachusetts. In fact, according to the widely cited report on the economic impact of entrepreneurship at MIT, written by MIT Sloan School of Management professor Ed Roberts and Charles Eesley, MIT alumni start 850-950 companies annually. Of those companies, an estimated 26-28 percent will be started in Massachusetts this year. In addition, an estimated 26-28 percent will be started in California. The punchline of this story is that these are not two competing ecosystems, but really one large, connected-at-the-source entrepreneurial ecosystem.
[Editor’s note, May 9, 2011–Due to author error, the original version of the above paragraph stated that MIT alumni start 200-400 companies annually. The figure was changed to 850-950 companies, accurately reflecting the figures in the report by Roberts and Eesley.]
Rather than spend our time and efforts arguing about winners and losers, or us vs. them, we at the MIT Entrepreneurship Center are focused on leveraging Metcalfe’s law through our second principle of operation: “collaboration.” We will spend our time and efforts to build connective tissue between East and West…and other areas, too. There are very interesting things happening outside Route 128 and Silicon Valley that we could all learn from and gain from by working together. So next time someone starts talking about Silicon Valley vs. Route 128 or Boston, ask them to “stop the noize!” We can all gain by a mindset of working together. Let’s spread the love around and innovation will flourish…and then we all win. Leave the score keeping to the sports page.