By John D. Sutter, CNN
I've noticed a bunch of tech stories lately about new "Silicon Valleys" popping up all over the world - from Central America to Russia to Africa. How great is that?
On one hand, dubbing a place the Silicon Valley of Wherever is a little irritating - in the same way universities calling themselves the "Harvard of the South" or websites saying they're the "next Twitter" is bothersome. Get your own identity.
But the fact that centers of tech innovation are emerging all over the globe - not just in that mountain-ringed, strip-mall-plagued valley near San Jose, California - is both encouraging and fascinating. Many of these emerging tech hubs are exporting technologies and ideas that could have have impact all over the world, not just in their respective regions. So who cares, really, if they need to piggyback on the innovative cache of Silicon Valley, California, to get some global attention?
Here's a quick look at five of these new innovation hubs, aggregated from recent news stories and interviews:
1. Nairobi, Kenya: Ushahidi, that open-source platform for mapping crises, was developed in Nairobi after an election crisis in 2008. Since then, the Kenyan capital has been asserting itself as a hotspot for app development, both for the Web and for mobile phones, particularly those that use text messages instead of complicated operating systems. A center called iHub provides a meeting place for start-ups and entrepreneurs to share ideas. Read about a few of them in a story I wrote last year.
2. Skolkovo, Russia: The government is playing a large role in engineering a tech sector for Russia, writes the Financial Times:
The Kremlin is working hard to position Skolkovo as a hallmark of its modernisation programme and a key part of its strategy to diversify away from oil and gas. The country will launch a “blitz tour” across the UK, Spain, France and Germany this autumn as it looks to draw in foreign investors to help create a Silicon Valley in Russia.
3. Guatemala City, Guatemala: The New York Times has a feature this week on Guatemala's Silicon Valley, which the paper says is remarkable in part because the idea of a meritocracy is almost unheard of in a country that has been defined by "cronyism" and "wide income disparities." More from that paper on this innovation zone:
For now, it is just a single brick building called Campus Tecnológico, with workspaces, programming classes and eco-friendly signs asking people to turn off lights in unused bathrooms. But the developers’ goal is to turn this five- or six-block area in the city’s center into an entrepreneurial campus, and a residential outpost for the hip, savvy, successful and young. “For people here, it’s the same as in Silicon Valley,” said Juan Mini, Campus Tec’s founder, who returned to Guatemala after starting a successful Internet company in California called ZipRealty. “What matters is your brain.”
4. Buenos Aires, Argentina: CNN's own Brian Byrnes has a nice piece on video game developers in Latin America, particularly in the capital of Argentina. He writes:
Until recently, video game developers have been concentrated in the United States, Europe and Asia, but over the past decade Latin American developers have blossomed, attracting millions in venture capital funding while developing games for blue-chip brands like Facebook and MTV.
One of his sources says Argentina's video game industry employs 3,000 people and will create $55 million in revenue this year alone.
5. Pretty much all of India: In its report on Pittsburgh becoming the new Silicon Valley of the United States, Monocle Magazine also offers an interesting map of similar innovative-y places that are popping up on other continents. One is Kolkata, India, which the magazine says is a break-out place for tech companies. NYT columnist Thomas Friedman has a recent piece on New Delhi, which he says shows promise to become a hub for tech start-ups and invention. He writes:
The predicted really is happening: India’s young techies are moving from running the back rooms of Western companies, who outsourced work here, to inventing the front rooms of Indian companies, which are offering creative, low-cost solutions for India’s problems. The late C.K. Prahalad called it “Gandhian innovation,” and I encountered many examples around New Delhi.
And he offers several examples. Among them:
Meet Vijay Pratap Singh Aditya, the C.E.O. of Ekgaon. His focus is Indian farmers, who make up half the population and constitute what he calls “an emerging market within an emerging market.” Ekgaon built a software program that runs on the cheapest cellphones and offers illiterate farmers a voice or text advisory program that tells them when is the best time to plant their crops, how to mix their fertilizers and pesticides, when to dispense them and how much water to add each day.