How to make Houston and Texas the next Silicon ValleyPaul Graham, the famous tech investor and writer, has a new essay out claiming any city has the potential to be the next Silicon Valley - or at least a close second - just by throwing money at the issue. Specifically, he thinks about $1 billion dollars would do it, distributed in $1 million dollar increments to lure 1,000 top tech startups to town. The assumption is that that critical mass would grow on its own from there, with cash-outs from winners become angel investors in the next wave. A billion dollars might sound like a lot, but he notes it's just one football stadium (or two in our case).
For the price of a football stadium, any town that was decent to live in could make itself one of the biggest startup hubs in the world.Then he shows a little of his Boston/SF bias:
What's more, it wouldn't take very long. You could probably do it in five years. During the term of one mayor. And it would get easier over time, because the more startups you had in town, the less it would take to get new ones to move there. By the time you had a thousand startups in town, the VCs wouldn't be trying so hard to get them to move to Silicon Valley; instead they'd be opening local offices. Then you'd really be in good shape. You'd have started a self-sustaining chain reaction like the one that drives the Valley.
Interestingly, the 30-startup experiment could be done by any sufficiently rich private citizen. And what pressure it would put on the city if it worked.
It will be easier in proportion to how much your town resembles San Francisco. Do you have good weather? Do people live downtown, or have they abandoned the center for the suburbs? Would the city be described as "hip" and "tolerant," or as reflecting "traditional values?" Are there good universities nearby? Are there walkable neighborhoods? Would nerds feel at home? If you answered yes to all these questions, you might be able not only to pull off this scheme, but to do it for less than a million per startup.I'd like to point out the original Silicon Valley had nothing to do with "walkable neighborhoods", and was - and pretty much still is - completely suburban. Houston's core still scores pretty well on these criteria. We certainly have more than our share of engineering nerds.
I realize the chance of any city having the political will to carry out this plan is microscopically small. I just wanted to explore what it would take if one did. How hard would it be to jumpstart a silicon valley? It's fascinating to think this prize might be within the reach of so many cities. So even though they'll all still spend the money on the stadium, at least now someone can ask them: why did you choose to do that instead of becoming a serious rival to Silicon Valley?Here's my own proposal: bring Silicon Valley to us. Or at least the critical parts. Figure out the hundred+ most important angels and venture capitalists in SV, and get them to agree to a once-a-month day trip (or maybe one overnight + a day) on a chartered plane to Houston to stay at a top-tier hotel (cut a deal in bulk for cheap off-peak Sunday nights) and meet with local tech startups all day - all expenses paid. All they have to do is show up for the flight and we take care of them from there. Then provide high-fidelity telepresence facilities to allow them to mentor their chosen startups between those monthly visits. It's not just about their money, but their extensive expertise in choosing and mentoring tech startups. What do they get out of it? Access to startups, technologies, and talent they would not normally see, with the geography barrier essentially removed.
Now, one good argument for why this might not work is that there's not a critical mass of good-quality tech startups in Houston to lure them. But what about Texas as a whole, or at least the Texas Triangle? That's got to be a huge mass of startups, technology, and talent that they'd love to tap. How would that work? Hold your ears, Longhorns: I think relatively central College Station is the answer. Fly them there once a month, and charter buses from all the major Triangle cities on day trips to bring the tech talent/startups to them there. It's within 2-3 hours for most while also tapping talent and technology from Texas A&M, the other top-ranked tier-one public research university in Texas.
OK, maybe it could switch between College Station and Austin on alternating months. Austin's not as central, but clearly it's Texas' tech startup capital and may be more attractive to the SV crowd. UT and A&M would be major supporting sponsors, of course (especially their tech transfer offices), maybe donating campus facilities for the meetings and sessions.
Branding options: Techxas Day? Silicon Texas Meetup? I'm open to suggestions in the comments.
It would be a huge boost to Texas' tech startup scene to be able to tap that Silicon Valley power and money base. And I think we have a critical mass of tech here in the 18+ million-person Texas Triangle that would outweigh any other region of the country in attractiveness to that crowd.
In the shorter-term, and on a smaller-scale, Houston needs to get it's own Y Combinator-type incubator program up and running soon, just like Atlanta, Austin and many others recently have. Does anybody know if somebody is putting something like this together?