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Silicon Valley is just a state of mind

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David Langer is a 22-year old former Seedcamp applicant working full-time at the Oxford Centre for Innovation on GroupSpaces, a funded start-up which he co-founded during his degree. He studied maths at Oxford University, and recently came 2nd in the UK Graduate of the Year competition. Here he shares his views about Europeans getting into entrepreneurship, the size of European visions and what’s useful about Seedcamp.

I graduated in June this year, and have been working on my start-up for nearly 2 years since forming the initial team at an Oxford Entrepreneurs Society event. I recently took the decision to reject some well-paid City Investment Banking job offers in order to work full-time on GroupSpaces . We aim to make it easier for people to discover, share and promote their passions in life. We do this by providing free web-based tools for clubs, societies, charities and other groups.

In August this year, I visited Google, Facebook and Bebo HQ during a recent trip to Silicon Valley with my co-founder Andy Young.

David Langer (left) and Andy Young (right), Facebook HQ, Palo Alto

During the trip we frequently contemplated the question:

“Why are there more successful start-ups coming out of Silicon Valley than anywhere else in the world?”

A lot of Europeans have a satisfactory answer, and perhaps like me, can think of some obvious reasons:

– most people there know someone who’s hit a home run previously, so the prospect of start-up success seems more realistic – more accessible capital floating around, both at angel and VC level, and this allows more people to give their ideas a proper chance – a much more positive attitude to failure leads to less inhibition and insecurity around going for it

One of the main motivating factors for starting Seedcamp was to close this gap between Europe and Silicon Valley. The first sentence written on “What we believe” by the Seedcamp team is:

“Europe has all the right ingredients – environment, talent, capital and role models – to build world beating technology businesses”

On Monday 3rd September, I was at the opening session in Seedcamp week where Saul Klein gave a short opening speech. Within this, he mentioned the importance of young founders not only having a big vision, and going for it, but also the importance of them knowing when to stop, pick themselves up and start again. Essentially, he was saying that failure is OK – it’s an inherent part of entrepreneurship, and provides many valuable lessons.

As Oxford Entrepreneurs has shown me, it is possible for young Europeans think big. Other than Andy and I with GroupSpaces, there are 3 other recently funded start-ups with very big visions and A-Teams fully immersed in entrepreneurship:

Auctomatic – making selling on eBay easier. Founded by Kulveer and Harjeet Taggar. YouNoodle – a social network for student entrepreneurs. Founded by Bob Goodson and Kirill Makharinsky. Academia.edu – a social network for academics. Founded by Richard Price.

In Silicon Valley and also within the European ecosystem, I doubt many would beg to differ with Saul’s philosophy above. However, a side effect of traditional European cultures (particularly British) – with their harsh attitude to failure and strong aversion to the associated risks – is that many young Europeans are scared off by the prospect of their start-up failing. And as a result, they never end up devoting the necessary time and effort to make it a success. The other point Saul made was about having a big vision. Again this is something the Europeans aren’t traditionally great with. Even if they can logically quantify a large, addressable market, having faith that they can successfully go after it is often lacking.

My belief is that it is not geographic location that’s the problem – as quoted above “Europe has all the right ingredients”. The actual problem is that Europeans lack the ‘Silicon Valley mindset’ – that of having a big vision and really having faith in yourself and your team executing upon that vision. This is what I believe is missing from many Europeans. This is what I want to encourage other young European founders to have. This is what I’m hoping initiatives like Seedcamp will address.

Silicon Valley is just a state of mind.

It’s also home to the Podtech show LunchMeet on which David and Andy were interviewed by Eddie Codel under their former brand “ClickUni”:ClickUni Manage Social Groups

You can read more about David’s thoughts on his blog

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