Where Is Europe's Google? - InformationWeek

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5/8/2008
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Where Is Europe's Google?

Or Microsoft or Cisco or VMware or...? A Swiss technologist's book says a culture that values risk-taking is Europe's missing ingredient.

Or Microsoft or Cisco or VMware or...? A Swiss technologist's book says a culture that values risk-taking is Europe's missing ingredient.London may be eclipsing Wall Street as the world financial capital, and the euro is trouncing the dollar, but Europe has yet to prove the equal of the United States in technological innovation.

Author and engineer Hervé Lebret thinks he knows why. "There is a risk culture that's missing. We don't have an environment to be more ambitious and risk-taking."

His book, Start-Up: What We Can Learn from Silicon Valley, argues that Europeans need to recognize the value of risk -- and failure.

"In the U.S. it's not that people like failure, but it's seen as a way to learn," he says. "In Europe, if you fail you aren't given a second chance to try again. So it's viewed very differently."

His point is well taken, particularly when you consider how well Europe is stocked with other critical ingredients for technological innovation, including elite universities, a professional class of technologists and managers, and access to investment capital.

During graduate studies in France, Lebret spent time at Stanford University, where he was amazed by the entrepreneurial activity. "All my classmates were starting companies or employed by startups." The experience prompted him to examine Europe's failure to maintain pace with the United States in technological innovation.

While many European countries provide state-sponsored incubators and science parks, Lebret says these mechanisms lack the vitality of Silicon Valley, which grew organically until it become a self-sustaining ecosystem.

And the seed for that organic growth? "The key ingredient, which is intangible, is the pioneer spirit, the entrepreneurial culture," says Lebret.

He hopes the book will inspire young people across the continent to take a chance. "You need role models, you need examples," he says. "You can't teach it, but you can convince people they can do it."

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