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New Zealand's longest-running online daily news and commentary publication, now in its 21st year. The opinion pieces presented here are not purported to be fact but reasonable effort is made to ensure accuracy.

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Building a silicon valley

13 June 2012

Every now and then I read about some attempt or another to create a "technology hub" -- a collection of like-minded businesses that, it's hoped, would create a synergy that produces big results.

Unfortunately, most of these things seem to start with a hiss and a roar but then fade from the spotlight -- never to be heard from again.

Of course there will now be dozens of folk who work in such an environment typing away furiously to tell me how wrong I am. That their tech-hub is alive and well, an industrious centre of hi-tech activity.

So how come we seldom hear of the results?

When the real Silicon Valley in California was in its hey-day there were stories of new ventures, new successes and new technologies emerging from that small area of the USA on an almost daily basis.

By comparison, our tech hubs are seldom (if ever) seen to make such announcements, breakthroughs or success-stories.

So what are we doing wrong?

Given that we regularly pat ourselves on the back for our ability to innovate, invent and develop clever hi-tech stuff, why are our tech hubs seemingly so lacking in results?

Could it be that our hubs aren't really a centre of exciting development so much as a place where companies just get on with boring tasks such as IT, data-processing, small scale design and manufacturing?

Might it be that, although we give them grandiose names like "incubators", hi-tech innovation centres, technology centres, etc -- the reality is that they're just a clustering of everyday businesses doing everyday things?

Is it that our lack of true venture capital means we're most unlikely to see the kind of talent, resource and research collectives that have produced so many success-stories elsewhere in the world?

Or might it be that whenever one of the tenants of one of these hubs does make a breakthrough or success, they're simply bought-out by an overseas company and whisked away -- even before news of their triumphs has reached the media?

I wonder just what it would take to create a real environment that delivers the kind of environment that would act as a catalyst for NZ's best and brightest to get stuck in and work together to come up with some world-class technologies and products?

Or is this something you just can't engineer?

Are places like Silicon Valley just a happy coincidence?

I'd like to hear from Aardvark readers who have worked or are working in so-called "incubators", innovation centres or technology parks. Is this kind of environment really delivering the benefits you expected?

What would you see as the ideal place to work towards developing new hi-tech or getting a technology start-up going?

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