I’m late in posting this, but wanted to write something about a tour I was involved in a couple of weeks ago: Silicon Valley comes to the UK (SVc2UK), and SIlicon Valley Comes to Cambridge (SVC2C), along with an additional trip to Silicon Valley Comes to Oxford, although I didn’t go on the Oxford portion.
It was a really fantastic trip, organized by Sherry Coutu and Reid Hoffman, and it was absolutely packed with interesting events and people.
The crew from Silicon Valley (which generously roped in folks from Vancouver, Washington & NYC as well) was a great group — interesting and diverse — and interested and curious about each other and the technology landscape globally, and specifically in the UK. It included senior people/founders/chairs from Kiva, LinkedIn, Facebook, Google, oPower, Mozilla, Creative Commons, DoSomething.org, as well as investors from August, Index, and Greylock and more — very broad.
But the stars of the tour were the people we got to meet. During the 4 days, we had 23 events scheduled that reached 2,700 people. The first day we started in London talking with people who run the UK government at the House of Commons — we had several MPs in attendance, and were hosted by the Speaker of the House of Commons in the fantastic Speaker’s Chambers. A few of us got to give short prepared remarks at the beginning of the session; mine are here.
After that, we were hosted by Google to talk with entrepreneurs from around London, also a great session, and had an interesting dinner with more folks from the London startup scene in the BT Tower.
The second day, hosted by NESTA, we got to meet many first time London entrepreneurs and it was a great, great time. There’s clearly a ton of interesting and fast startup activity happening in the UK currently, and it was neat to have a firsthand look into it. Was also fun to share some of our own experiences from Silicon Valley.
After that we hopped on a bus to go to Cambridge, which was an altogether different experience — also fantastic.
First a bit of history: Cambridge University was first established in 1284, and counts a number of incredible thinkers amongst its alumni: Isaac Newton, Francis Bacon, James Clerk Maxwell, Crick and Watson and many, many more. And it’s been the home of seminal computer breakthroughs — it’s where Charles Babbage and Alan Turing did their work.
Over the past few decades, it’s also had an incredible run in terms of tech industry output, including being the birthplace of ARM Holdings as well as Autonomy.
We spent Friday at the Judge Business School at Cambridge, in a variety of panels, talks, and “surgeries” helping new startups think through their strategies and priorities. The high point for me, I think, was being able to talk with the 3 recent winners of a national entpreneurship contest — 3 teenage girls who’ve started their own venture. Great to be able to meet them and talk for a bit.
Saturday we spent time at the Hauser Center talking with a ton of interesting startups, and helping where we could.
Then we caught our breath for a bit.
On each of the three nights in Cambridge, we were very fortunate to be able to have dinner in one of the colleges: Queens (shown in my picture above), Peterhouse (the oldest), and St. John’s. One of the unexpected delights for me was that we were able to attend Choral Evensong in The Chapel of St John’s College on Saturday night — it’s a liturgy that’s been sung in that particular chapel since the 1670s. It was amazing for me to be able to attend that — as an adult, I haven’t been to church with any regularity, but I attended Methodist and Presbyterian churches growing up, and Dad has sung in choirs everywhere we’ve gone (and still does). It reminded me of listening to some of that music growing up, but the other reason that I liked it (other than that the music was exceedingly beautiful) is that it’s in such contrast to the hyper-paced, global, 24/7, always connected, media slammed life that we all live today. It allowed me to pause a bit, to reflect on what it means to be devoted to a cause, to spend your life trying to express ideas (in music or otherwise), and to think about things larger than just what products are released today that we can buy each other for Christmas. I doubt that I’ll ever be a particularly religious person again in my life, but I felt very lucky to be able to attend Evensong and think some about perspective and pacing and commitment.
Anyway, it was an incredible trip — Sherry and Reid did a masterful job in putting it all together — it was a little overwhelming, to be honest. There are some great things happening in London and Cambridge, and I can’t wait to see where they go.