Hello to all,
As you may know, my interest for new, interesting and useful technology is large. I had the chance to get a further look into the technology (‘tech’) future the last 2 weeks. As part of my work, I was able to meet earlier this month the future of tech companies in France (via Station F) and a get a glimpse of what is actually happening in Silicon Valley and San Francisco.
As you may know, start-up companies are hot since many years. Several of this companies made it into the top players of their sector, and every day new players enter into this ‘world’.
Station F in Paris
In France, the initiative was taken by Xavier Niel (one of the richest people in France, and the big boss of Free – a large French telecom provider) to launch the biggest startup campus in the world, called Station F. Station F occupies a building designed by French engineer Eugène Freyssinet, originally opened in 1929 as a rail depot, located in Paris 13th district.
The building contains 3,000 desk spaces, private meeting facilities, a 370-seat auditorium and dining facilities open to the public. Big companies, such as MicroSoft and FaceBook, are also having office here to make connections with startup companies easily possible.
Even L’Oreal, a large French cosmetics group, will be present to link real customers with the digital world, such as new apps and Augmented Reality (a hot topic for the coming years), thus opening new opportunities and new markets.
BNP Paribas, a large French Bank, is also strongly present via their partnership with Plug and Play, a global innovation platform supporting startups around the world. BNP Paribas, as a reliable partner to startups, with its own strong innovation culture, will lend its banking expertise to the InsurTechs and FinTech companies.
As part of an innovate project within the BNP Paribas Group, I had the chance to spend this month some time in this vibrating world with many enthusiastic people, from various international startups and BNP Paribas teams, delivering new solutions (such as artificial intelligence or machine learning) for the Bank’s private and corporate customers. I found it difficult not to get excited when walking around in the building and ‘to sense the future‘.
Around the world, several incubation and innovation centres exist. Almost every country has its own centre, while the largest countries do have several or multiple accelerator centres. In almost every case, these centres bring together small companies, offer them ways to meet other companies, and to get funding for growth.
San Francisco and Silicon Valley
These incubation centres exist even more in Silicon Valley, with examples like Y-Combinator, Matter or 500 startups. But there are much more solutions, often founded by people coming themselves from startups with money gained from their previous companies (existing, or sold for a good price).
Last week, I had the chance to spend a few days in Silicon Valley and in San Francisco to see and sense the latest evolutions in the tech world, on both startups and the big companies. I noted down some of my observations.
San Francisco: a lot has been written on this town. Of course, everybody knows the many touristic elements of the city, such as the Golden Gate bridge, or the well-known cable cars. But San Francisco is also housing many important big companies in the CRM, Health, Search, Financial and Solutions world, and takes part in many tech evolutions.
When taking a coffee in the morning in one of the many StarBucks around town, in my eyes San Francisco is still very hot (as the coffee).
As an example, on an early Sunday morning, at a table next to me, in one of these Starbucks, a young person was explaining in detail his technical solution and business plans to a business angel (a private investor). Interesting conversation (even when I tried very much not to listen :-)).
Even with the competition on startups around the world, the city is still highly involved in the traditional business (Banking as an example) and New Businesses (especially the Tech Industries, both hardware and software). Also for example Automattic, the maker of WordPress in which this blog is written in, is located in San Francisco.
San Francisco is also very expensive, especially due to many expats, and due to many people who made fortune in Silicon Valley.
At 1 hour by car or train from San Francisco, Palo Alto, Mountainview or Cupertino are well-known cities. Even when Silicon Valley is already ‘old’, opportunities and ideas are still everywhere, from the university campuses (Stanford for example) to the campuses of the big companies like Google, Facebook or Apple.
The mentioned cities were home to many IT companies, such as Hewlett-Packard and Apple for example. Also Borland, the creator of my so much used Delphi program, was located here. Also Stripe, a very promising and high growing payment solution provider, founded by 2 Irish brothers, is located here.
The Stanford University was, and still is, home to many startup companies. The strong links between the university and the companies helps to create a vibrating environment. Many other universities, with examples like Harvard in the US, or Leuven in Belgium, create and maintain these links as this is a ‘win-win’ situation. Money flows in to study more, and the results of the studies flow back to the companies.
Getting around these days in the Valley is done either by driving with a Tesla, or just using Uber or Lyft. I personally used Uber last week to go the various HQ’s and campuses. I was again impressed by the ease of use of Uber: flexible and without any hassle of payments, so much simpler than renting a car.
Spending some time at Facebook HQ, it was impressive to see the number of young people discussing between them, using all kind of smartphones, tablets and portable PC’s to develop ideas. The number of people walking and driving around was incredible. So much activity.
At Google, it feels more Android than ever. However, as there are so many Google campuses around, it is almost impossible to see what is really going on. On the photo you see little bikes, because everyone was (really !) cycling around between the buildings. It is however difficult to get into the buildings: secrecy is key.
At Apple, I spent some time at their ‘old’ HQ at 1, Infinite Loop in Cupertino. Same feelings again as with Google and Facebook: busy, young people everywhere, vibrating. Many ideas, and high quality. And good marketing of course :-).
I also visited the special Apple Store ‘next door’, where I was given specialised support for my own little company (GPI). Service was really good, including App Store support, showing real interest in what the company was about, my views, and taking my picture :-).
I was just ‘too early’ to see a glimpse of the upcoming iPhone X, which will be commercialised in a few days. Would have been nice.
I also hoped to visit at the inside their new Apple Park: the incredibly newly designed Apple HQ in the form of a spaceship. The cost of the new HQ is more than 4 billion USD, however it creates an impressive message of sustainability, cooperation and continuous evolution. And that is also important.
I was able to see a glimpse of the new HQ outside, and even that was already impressive. Landscaping is still in progress, and finalisation of roads and pavements is ongoing. It will open probably still fully in 2017. Meetings in the new building were, to my regret, not yet possible.
Back in San Francisco later that week, tourists and business people continued to occupy together a large part of the city. On every corner though, I felt the vibes and the future of technology coming. With Tech HQ’s of Twitter, Uber and others in the same streets, combined with the Californian values such sea and surfing, and start-ups and new ideas everywhere, makes this city always feeling special.
Sensing the Tech future in Belgium
Back at home in Belgium, and after such strong impressions on sensing the Tech future the last 2 weeks, the difference between the status of start-ups, business innovations, incubators in Belgium compared to France and the US feels big.
The country, and especially Brussels, Leuven and Gent, do have some incubators, but not yet at sizes seen in the other countries. Banks, investors and Belgian government must be able to put their hands together to offer greater opportunities to our local start-ups.
Some universities have taken initiatives already, and a further innovative Belgian Tech Day is announced for this week in Antwerp. But so much more needs to happen if Belgium wants to be a real part of the Tech future. The environment is ready, and we do have some really good start-ups, so let’s go for it !
Thanks for reading, and take care,
October 22, 2017