165 University Avenue is a small rented office building on the main commercial street in the centre of Palo Alto, California – Silicon Valley. Also known as the “Lucky Building”, over the years it has incubated a number of “gorilla” businesses, names that include, Logitech, Google, PayPal, Danger, Inc, Milo.com, eye IO and Yummly. Silicon Valley cannot be replicated, its unique, however, I strongly feel that we can learn a lot from this vibrant world-class entrepreneurial region.
Through the High Growth Foundation I am particularly keen to work out what we need to do to create our own blockbuster businesses up North and throughout the rest of the UK. The Billion Dollar Club in the US acts as a forum for companies with a market capitalization of $1billion, no surprises that Silicon Valley companies are well represented in this list. In recent years most notable UK companies that would fall into this elite group would be the spin outs from Cambridge University, Autonomy and Biovex from UCL. How many of these have we created in the North West? I just can’t believe we have not got the talent, I think the environment is wrong.
We have some great incubator units in the Region, but would one in the heart of Manchester help to create a blockbuster as the West Coast of the States has repeatedly done. The external environment is crucial when you are trying to build a business, it supports creative thought and innovation – a place where there is a buzz, somewhere to go for a coffee, a pizza or a beer after work is so important. After all we are human beings and being stuck out on a limb in some Enterprise Zone I don’t think is the answer. Ambitious entrepreneurs want to be surrounded by like-minded high energy people with links to finance and capital. That happens in city centres.
We need a radical rethink about how we help the stars of tomorrow. The UK cities offer a great environment for breeding tomorrows superstars – but still we are keen to push new entrepreneurs out into the sticks where there is little energy and no spark. Maybe time for a rethink on where we encourage our beacons of tomorrow to set up. Do we have the equivalent of 165 University Avenue in Manchester? It’s not in the City Centre as it is in Palo Alto.