What Makes Silicon Valley Special: Live From Tech Crunch


What Other Startup Communities Can Learn From The Bay Area

As an entrepreneur and owner of The Entrepreneur Café, LLC I have had a chance to live, work and visit some great startup communities. My time in Washington, D.C. exposed me to the ‘Technology Corridor’ and some of the pioneering companies of tech. In my visits to New York’s ‘Silicon Alley’ and Los Angeles I have met some amazing entrepreneurs whose startups have given me a new perspective of small business. Since moving back to Chicago, it’s been nice to see the development of the city’s own unique startup infrastructure. For a couple of years I listened as a lifelong friend contemplate moving his growing company out to the Bay Area. However, it wasn’t until last year when I made the entrepreneurial pilgrimage for myself that I fully understood that the San Francisco technology community is unlike any other. From the 2016 TechCrunch (@TechCrunch) #Crunchies Awards in San Francisco . . . What Makes Silicon Valley Special?


Those that know their history usually have a good understanding of where they are headed and Silicon Valley has a long startup legacy.

  • In 1938 a couple of Stanford Graduate students William Hewlett and David Packard began working in a garage in Palo Alto and would go on to create technology giant Hewlett-Packard.
  • In 1942 during World War II, Stanford Professor Fred Terman visits Harvard to lead a secret government lab. He would later return to the area and help attract federal funding for electronic research.
  • In 1953 the new Stanford Industrial Park opened-housing Hewlett-Packard, General Electric, and Lockheed as early tenants.
  • In 1959 Jack Kirby of Texas Instruments files a patent for the first general purpose integrated circuit.
  • In 1968 RoberNiyce and Gordon Moore launched their own startup, Intel, maker of the first commercial micro-processor and leading semi-conductor chip maker.
  • In 1971 a series of articles titled “Silicon Valley, USA” is the first time on record that the term is used.
  • In 1975 Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak launched Apple Computers in their garage. If you have never seen a unicorn (not the actual horned horse but a company valued at more than $1B) then all you have to do is look around Silicon Valley. The area is home to giants Google, Oracle, Dropbox, Uber, Airbnb and Facebook among others.
  • According to the Wall Street Journal, 16% of Stanford’s Graduate School of Business Students are started companies in 2015 compared with Harvard (9%), MIT (7%), Wharton (4.4 %) and Booth (3.3%).  


There is something in the air out here as it seems like everyone from the Uber driver that picked me up, to the mass transit driver giving me directions, to the waiter who took my order . . . all have Zuckerberg fever. San Francisco embraces its diversity and resembles a kind of United Colors of Benneton of technological goodness. Somehow this amazing collection of people from all backgrounds, countries and interests have all been drawn together in order to create something great. I can recall a time when a young entrepreneur I was speaking with at an event in New York began explaining the inner workings of his company and future plans all without asking me to sign a non-disclosure. There is a level of transparency in the Bay Area that I haven’t seen in many places. There seems to be an openness and a willingness to share their knowledge, successes, contacts and their money in an effort to build a successful company.


Each year TechCrunch’s Disrupt Conference highlights and honors some of the leading tech companies in the world located throughout Silicon Valley. There are so many great companies in the Bay and each is uniquely different. However, the truly great startups exhibit some similar characteristics. Some of the stand out companies from this year’s event have provided and excellent lesson in what it takes to make a great startup.

  •  Have a Unique Idea: When I first took a look at Fastest Rising Startup category winner Slack (@SlackHQ) I admit that it went over my head. On second look I can see the true brilliance of what they have created. Slack is a new messaging service (different than Best Mobile App Winner-Messenger) as it was created for teams and brings all of a companies communication needs under one roof. Channels can be created for departments, projects and office locations.
  •  Solve A Real Problem: Though they were the runner up in the Fastest Rising Startup category to Slack, Postmates (@Postmates) was an interesting concept. Because we are a society of convenience, Postmates manages to deliver to your door from numerous restaurants and stores in minutes. The company provides shopping variety, speed of delivery, reliability, smart tracking of your items and great customer service all in one transaction.
  •  Does It Have Great Potential? After navigating into San Francisco from the suburbs I quickly realized that I would now need to navigate the buses and trams to make it to my final destination. Saving myself the time and headache I simply called an Uber (@Uber) which got me to where I was headed hassle free. What’s interesting is that Uber is already one of the fastest growing and biggest companies in the world yet as a technology logistics company I think they haven’t even scratched the service of what they could become. It’s no wonder Uber won Best Overall Startup.
  •  A Founder’s Passion: I think one of the main ingredients that a great startup has to have is the passion of its founder. In the Category Include Diversity Award, Kimberly Bryant (@6Gems) of Black Girls Code (@BlackGirlsCode) took the honors. In her acceptance speech you could see her passion for the wanting to increase the number of women of color in the digital space by empowering girls of color ages 7 to 17. 

During my visits to San Francisco, I’ve worked out of an incubator where I watched members of one company play foosball, table tennis, have impromptu pow-wows on bean bags to discuss plans for their summer in Japan, while others rode bikes throughout the massive facility. Somehow amidst all of this startup success these companies are managing to have some fun. I’ve met Sid from New York who had given himself three months in the area for his internet marketing company to sink or swim. There was Jeffrey who flew in from Taiwan for the week to connect with area startups looking to find manufacturers in China. Lastly, there was Alejandro at Startup House (@StartupHouse) whose social media tech company was housed in an incubator dorm of sorts where the residence lived, worked and played all in one awesome space. A willingness to go for it and put it all on the line is one of the many things that makes Silicon Valley special. I can’t wait to see what next year’s Tech Crunch has to offer.

Cavanaugh L. Gray (cgray@ecafellc.com) is the Director of Business Development for The Entrepreneur Café, L.L.C (877) 511-4820. To read a chapter from his new book The Entrepreneurial Spirit Lives: 25 Tales to Help Entrepreneurs Start, Grow, and Succeed in Small Business log on to www.ecafellc.com. For more information on how to start, grow and succeed in small business, ‘Like’ us on Facebook, ‘Follow’ us on Twitter and on ‘Connect’ with us on LinkedIn or visit us on Instagram.


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