Innovation Meets Scale

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Hill88 helps corporates engage with the Silicon Valley startup ecosystem, and helps early stage startups scale to sustainability.

Silicon Valley Lite

Is there a way to connect to the Silicon Valley ecosystem without writing million-dollar checks?   Some recent trends have made it possible to stay plugged in while locating the bulk of your innovation resources closer to your home base – where they are more effective anyways.

Maverick's near  Half Moon Bay

Maverick's near Half Moon Bay

“Must be nice…”, a General Manager told me with a wink as I introduced myself as his company’s Silicon Valley technology scout.   Ah, the life of a local innovation team manager, far away from the hectic corporate pressures, living a bubble of “perfection” in Silicon Valley, bathed in sunshine during the day, and fine wine during networking meetings in the evening!   The reality of course is far from this perception, but some critique is justified.   Wouldn’t it be better if the bulk of your innovation effort were located near your corporate home base where it could more easily influence engineering culture and product directions?    It would definitely be more efficient.

Two trends here in the Silicon Valley have made it easier to plug in while keeping expenses low:

  1. Accelerators have grown in size and have now established corporate programs.   Good examples are Plug and Play in Sunnyvale,  and RocketSpace  in San Francisco.   For a monthly subscription fee you get access to conference rooms for your visits as well as introductions to startups that meet your criteria list.  These accelerators also schedule lots of events that can help build your network, spot trends, and exchange ideas with other corporate members.

  2. Angel Investors have gotten more organized and investment dollars are growing.   Angel investing groups are the “new VCs” as the appetite for early stage (i.e. the interesting) investments are now shifting more to the angel community as opposed to the VC community.  While some angel groups resemble more of a social club, several are quite serious and offer corporates an inexpensive way to access private deal flow.   The Angels’ Forum is largely made up of senior tech executives, and the group offers its corporate members a deep glimpse into the early stage investment process.   Sand Hill Angels is more of a volunteer-driven group, but it has a large amount of deal flow and a very knowledgeable and enthusiastic membership.  Corporate memberships/sponsorships are *very* reasonable in cost, especially when compared with the usual VC arrangement.

Now that office space and deal flow is established, here are a few additional steps to consider:

  •  Go Native.  The temptation exists to send a promising manager to Silicon Valley to represent company interests as well as to return home with Silicon Valley culture at the end of the assignment.   But this approach is a miss when realizing that Silicon Valley is a heavily networked culture.    Your manager will arrive with zero contacts (and zero productivity), and a year later, when he/she has finally begun to build their network, will be sent home to be replaced by the next manager with zero contacts in the Valley.      Hire a local veteran – you get instant access to their network, which gives instant credibility and instant productivity - and results.
  • Engage, Don’t Just Window-shop.    Corporates have a reputation in the Silicon Valley for wasting a startup’s time, and never making any decisions.  Don’t be that corporate!   If you want to be taken seriously here, you need to bring something to the table.   Writing investment checks would be the easiest approach, but you can get similar credit for making introductions to your corporate network, providing some perspectives during startup due diligence procedures, or writing smaller checks for prototype development or university research activities.
Juan Bautista de Anza  arrives at the Golden Gate.

Juan Bautista de Anza arrives at the Golden Gate.

  • Keep It Light.    To summarize, Silicon Valley is full of expensive real estate, expensive investment propositions, and expensive engineers.    Keep the bulk of your innovation investment near your home base, but focus on maintaining an active listening post in Silicon Valley.    Get a local guide and visit regularly – enjoying the sunshine and the fine wine -  then bring some good ideas home, where the real work awaits…

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