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Understanding the Past to Invent the Future Lessons From the History of Venture


理解历史,创造未来 In a speech at a commencement ceremony in 2005, that has since become a classic, Steve Jobs told the graduates of Stanford University about the feeling he had when he was fired from “Apple”. “I felt that I had let the previous generation of entrepreneurs down,” he said, “that I had dropped the baton as it was being passed to me.” Jobs considered himself a relay runner in a chain, picking up the symbolic baton of innovation from David Packard and Robert Noyce. Noyce, a co-founder of Fairchild Semiconductor, one of the first technologic startups in San-Jose, established Intel after leaving Fairchild in the late 1960s, while his former coworkers created Intel’s competitors, “National” and “AMD”.

The “traitorous eight” who left Shockley Laboratories to establish Fairchild Semiconductors

In his recent monograph on the history of Silicon Valley, Leslie Berlin, a Stanford historian, defines the factors that made the Valley world’s biggest hub of venture and innovation. Technology, Culture and Money are, according to Berlin, the three elephants upon which the Valley’s unique ecosystem stands; and these are the factors that allow it to endure for almost seven decades. However, although Technology, Culture and Money are keys to the understanding of Silicon Valley, its past, present and possibly future; the true key to its endurance is constant Change and innovation.

vermeijApple Computer Inc. is a perfect example of ongoing innovation. According to Apple’s DNA – an in-depth analysis by André Vermeij, published in the History Issue of Coller Venture Review, Apple filed more than 9,663 patents over a period between 1978-2014, with the vast majority of these filed since 2008. Such a surge in the number of patents was enabled by a large interconnected network of more than 5,000 inventors, collaborating on the creation of constant improvements and new products, all the way to reinventing whole markets (as with the case of the iPod or the iPhone.)

The SV venture ecosystem reinvents itself every decade, using the achievements of previous decades as a foundation upon which the next generation of innovation is being built. These are keys to understanding of the unique Silicon Valley atmosphere – and according to Berlin, the only thing jeopardizing its future is the loss of this atmosphere, currently ongoing due to rising housing costs and income inequality in the Valley. And while (almost) no other ecosystem could reproduce Silicon Valley, and it’s still rather bold to say that its golden days are over – its possible demise as a favorable location for innovation might have devastating effects.

History of Venture is an important research strand of CIV. Similarly to Leslie Berlin, we believe that one cannot invent the future without understanding the past. Our History of Venture database aggregates key events from the history of venture, and now CIV is offering $25,000 to a UX developer, who would bring this database to life and turn it to an online dynamic timeline.

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