It’s been a busy week for a considerable number of EU Parliament members. In fact, two of the most important “technical” committees of MEPs have been on a US tour, stopping first in Washington DC (understandably) and later in Silicon Valley. Maybe less understandably, the 2 groups did not travel together but a few days from each other. The net result has been a full week of activities in Silicon Valley for an unusual group of policy makers representing a world semi-unknown (up until today) by the SV crowd.
The LIBE Committee is responsible for the vast majority of the legislation and oversight of Justice and Home Affairs policies, primarily focused on Big Data and Data protection policy, while the STOA Committee (Science and Technology Options Assessment) works on “the potential and challenges of the internet” (so it reads).
I had the opportunity to participate in multiple gatherings with the two groups and collect insights from some of the participants — a mix of entrepreneurs, faculty from Stanford and UC Berkeley and executives from Google, Apple, Pinterest, and Microsoft among others (quite surprisingly Facebook, Uber, Airbnb seemed to be missing from the discussion).
The effects of policies such as “the Right to be Forgotten” or the “Privacy Shield Mechanism” –which have huge impacts on how large corporations of the digital economy treat and manage user data– were discussed mostly in informal 1:1 conversations. Today, the rules-of-the-game are being defined, for the most part, in Brussels while having huge impacts at a global level (annoying website cookies policy, anybody?)
However, from these gatherings, it became pretty clear that, in Silicon Valley, as opposed to Europe,
a) those topics are not felt as mainstream (most of the local attendees were not aware of the details, if at all) but rather represent mainly legally charged arguments (part of the cost of doing business)
b) the majority of the current Silicon Valley economy shakers, the entrepreneurs, do not see the need to spend much time and resources in discussing some of the by-products of their world-changing innovations
In the innovators’ world, the only rule is breaking things, as a necessary part of the process of coming up with better solutions. The word goes like this: it’s always better to ask for forgiveness than permission.
No wonder that some of the conversations with our EU lawmakers friends felt a bit detached from our day-by-day reality.
At Mind the Bridge we had the great honor to host the group of MEPs in our premises for the last wrap-up of the week. To provide a balanced counterpart to the discussion, we invited some representatives from our SEC2SV Sounding Board:
Fabrizio Capobianco, serial entrepreneur, his last venture, TOK.tv is a big data player for sports (most of the top EU soccer teams); Michel Wendell, VC with 20+ years investing experience in the Valley; and Julian Green, a career spent creating startups that were acquired by corporations– his last venture (Jetpack) acquired by Google brought him to join Google X. Right there in 3 people, the whole ecosystem of Silicon Valley, 3 different phases of the same process: startup investor, startup entrepreneur and corporation (who acquires startups).
While our friends were contemplating the most obvious unspoken question for our European friends (“Why are you here?”), the question quite unexpectedly comes from Axel Voss (Christian-democrat from Germany): “Why are you here?” After a second of glimpses to recover from the surprise, Julian summarizes it for all: “We are all migrants for economic opportunities.”
“If you want to grow nice tomatoes you go to the South of Italy. If you are looking to grow startups, you’d better be here,” Fabrizio tops it off.
This is the kind of ingenuity, the bias to action, the freshness that our EU lawmaker friends have learned to appreciate this week. If that has been the main outcome of their trip here, then it was time well spent. The picture that comes to mind is of a mature grown-up (EU) looking at, with some nostalgia, the teenage young man building the future for both.
From tomorrow, the EU policy makers go back to their Brussels discussions, our Silicon Valley entrepreneurs go back to build (and break) things.
Life goes on, but with 2 more data points:
- it’s time for EU to have a coordinated outpost in Silicon Valley
- startups (and not only mature corporations) need to have a direct channel to talk to lawmakers, early on in their disruptive process: that’s why entities like Allied for Startup become key.
More on that? Add to your calendar the European Innovation Day, Sep 12th at the Computer History Museum.
Marco Marinucci, Founder & CEO Mind the Bridge