By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues
On this historic inauguration day – that most of us thought we’d never see – I was invited by the BBC to opine on Trump’s likely impact on the economy, Silicon Valley tech in particular. My remit: to balance some of the pro-Trump hoopla from other guests, businessmen from the U.K. and U.S. who seem to believe that he will “make America (and the UK) great again” overnight. You can listen to the BBC podcast here. Our conversation starts at 20:50.
Here’s a transcript of my conversation with the BBC’s Colletta Smith and Mickey Clark on the program “Wake Up To Money” (edited for length and clarity):
BBC’s Colletta Smith: Also joining us is Alison van Diggelen, a Silicon Valley journalist. Good morning Alison.
Alison van Diggelen: Good morning. Good to join you.
Colletta Smith: You’re in Silicon Valley where businesses have voiced quite a lot of concern about the incoming president. What are your feelings this morning, waking up in Silicon Valley ahead of what’s going to be such a momentous day?
Alison van Diggelen: It’s going to be a very historic day…But the fact is, over 140 tech leaders signed a letter saying Donald Trump is a danger to innovation* and as you know Silicon Valley is an innovation hub, it’s one of the engines of growth for the United States. So there’s a deep feeling of malaise and fear…but at the same time business leaders are pragmatic, they’ve accepted that he will be our president and there’s a “business as usual” mentality amidst that underlying feeling of fear and uncertainty.
*The exact words of the letter were: “Trump would be a disaster for innovation. His vision stands against the open exchange of ideas, free movement of people, and productive engagement with the outside world that is critical to our economy — and that provide the foundation for innovation and growth.”
Continue listening to the podcast
We also discuss Trump’s protectionist, anti-science, anti-environment stance, the fears of a trade war; his cabinet picks and his potential negative impact on jobs, especially clean tech jobs.
By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues
I recently attended Silicon Valley’s Tech Awards, and despite the inspiring innovators from around the world, there was an underlying mood of disquiet (even alarm) as Silicon Valley adjusts to the imminent reality of a Donald Trump presidency. I asked Tim Ritchie, President of the Tech Museum, what his predictions are for Silicon Valley under a new administration whose leader who has frequently espoused anti-science rhetoric. Here’s his response:
“We need to become a community that values science, that trusts evidence, that’s not afraid of facts, that’s not afraid of the future. My hope is that people will say: we’re Americans, we do not fear the future; we believe we can solve problems. And so hopefully it’ll be a wakeup call to be who the world needs us to be.” Tim Ritchie, President of the Tech Museum of Innovation, and host of the Tech Awards.
Of course, Silicon Valley is not afraid of the future and is full of risk-taking innovators, but as Ritchie says, it has received a wakeup call, and a stark reminder of the political bubble it lives in. There is a thriving tech world beyond Silicon Valley and its sky-high cost of living, traffic congestion and their impact on our quality of life are forcing some residents and companies to look elsewhere.
Portland, Oregon attracted Intel back in the 1970’s and more recently, tech companies like Google, AirBnB, Salesforce, and eBay have moved some facilities to the Portland area. Today Portland is a hub for global sportswear companies and has a growing tech startup scene. I went there to investigate what Silicon Valley and other global tech hubs can learn from its success and filed this report for the BBC World Service program, Business Matters.
Listen to the podcast at BBC Business Matters (The show is titled: How will Castro’s Death Affect Cuba-US Relations?) The Portland segment starts at 29:00.
Listen to the Portland segment here:
Here’s an excerpt of Tuesday’s program and my original report transcript (edited for length and clarity):
BBC host, Fergus Nicoll: Move over Silicon Valley. Today, we take you up to Silicon Forest, zooming up the west coast to Portland, Oregon and its thriving tech scene. A growing number of companies have made that move north. So what are the ingredients that make it a fertile ecosystem for tech startups and what can other tech hubs learn? Over to Alison…
Alison van Diggelen: Thanks Fergus. I took the 90 minute flight north of Silicon Valley to Portland (aka Silicon Forest). It does have a thriving tech scene and I wondered if Silicon Valley has anything to fear from this growing startup scene. I met with Jonathan Evans, a Blackhawk pilot who’s now CEO of Skyward, a drone management startup. Here’s what he said:
Jonathan Evans: If you haven’t been to Portland, you have to come, it’s one of the most magnificent cities on earth. It’s a beautiful, culturally rich city, an urban patchwork of villages, pedestrian scaled and we sit right at the foot of the Cascade mountains and just inland of the Pacific Ocean. This culture is wonderful at supporting innovation, technology and big bold ideas…This is a pioneering place. We’re anchored by Intel’s largest campus here. Intel, the Moore’s-law-driving-machine that’s producing all the chips and there’s a whole constellation of hardware companies that have come out of that ecosystem.
Alison van Diggelen: Although Evans visits Silicon Valley twice a month to meet with clients and investors, he’s not tempted to relocate his business.
Jonathan Evans: I don’t think there’s ever a part of me that wants to stay…(laughter) It’s a personal choice….We live well. If you look at it tenaciously as a business man: it’s half to one-third the cost living here and that translates to the salaries that we have to pay and the rent we have to pay…everything that comes into building a lean venture-backed tech startup really comes to apply here nicely…It’s a very legitimate place to grow a company, and to be backed by San Francisco and Silicon Valley.
Alison van Diggelen: And that cheaper “cost of doing business” has caught the attention of high-priced, highly congested Silicon Valley. Tech companies like Google, AirBnB, Salesforce, and eBay have already moved some facilities to the Portland area. They tend, however to be the support and “backend” part of today’s tech ecosystem.
Polysync, a software startup in the autonomous driving sector recently relocated to Portland, from Idaho. I spoke with the CEO, Josh Hartung. Why did he choose Portland and not Silicon Valley?
Josh Hartung: Silicon Valley is always at the cutting edge, you have the best people in the world, hyper-new type stuff, where you’re seeing machine learning and autonomous driving really being pushed. For us, that wasn’t so important…We’re infrastructure builders, we want people who’re good at the plumbing… we want solid engineers that build backend.
Alison van Diggelen: For a big picture view, I crossed the river to talk with Skip Newberry, the President of the Technology Association of Oregon (pictured at top).
Skip Newberry: We’re still relatively immature… as a true technology hub. We don’t have the deep bench that exists in a place like Silicon Valley.
Alison van Diggelen: And yet, he’s bullish about Portland’s growth potential. A recent report showed that Portland’s tech talent pool grew 28% from 2010 to 2013, even faster than Silicon Valley’s (in percentage terms). Newberry says a focus on talent, access to capital and the regulatory environment is helping. He’s convinced that public-private partnerships in education and the “Internet of Things” will help create the right ecosystem for startups. He cites projects to improve air quality and transportation.
Skip Newberry: One area that we’ve been really active in has been “Smart Cities”– leveraging Portland’s reputation internationally as a global hub for urban planning and transportation systems. We’ve been trying to focus on the biggest challenges cities face, because if we can solve those, it’s something that will allow us to remain competitive in attracting top tech talent, because our quality of life will continue to be good. We’ve got a network of cities around US and globally who’re doing the same thing.
Alison van Diggelen: So does Silicon Valley have anything to fear from Portland? Not for now. Silicon Valley has more established tech hubs like Boston and Austin; New York, and Seattle to worry about. In any case, it’s too busy forging ahead, “inventing the future” with artificial intelligence, autonomous driving, drones and who knows what else?
Fergus Nicoll: Nice piece, Alison. Thanks. That was Skip Newberry, one of the people that believes Portland has the vision and I guess there has got to be an environment that fosters this: state authorities, maybe federal interest in making sure the good news is spread across the states…not just Silicon Valley?
Alison van Diggelen: Absolutely. I think the ecosystem of Silicon Valley is second to none and that was something that I came across when I talked with startup founders in Portland. There isn’t that deep bench of experienced people, the venture capital…
Fergus Nicoll: Explain that phrase “deep bench.”
Alison van Diggelen: I think it’s a baseball term. It means experienced business people: angel investors, venture capitalists, people who have started companies and have scaled them up: from a startup to the size of Facebook, Google etc. Portland is a relatively young tech hub and so they’re still establishing that talent base. What Silicon Valley has is a self perpetuating cycle: you’ve got the innovators, the risk-takers, the early adopters and it all reinforces. There’s a cycle going on: the people who’re successful become angel investors, venture capitalists…they’re all focused on Silicon Valley, because they’re here in Silicon Valley. Despite our connected world, doing business with eye to eye contact is still important.
Fergus Nicoll: Parag Khanna, is there endless room for such hubs or should it be focused?
Parag Khanna: It was a great piece. I have been to Portland and the geography does matter as well as the cost of living. It’s very close to the Vancouver/Seattle corridor, a wealthy, high quality infrastructure, diversified businesses, also a lot of talent spilling over from there and obviously sales opportunities for Portland based companies. And as the story reflected: talent spilling over from Silicon Valley. The geography is wonderful for this and people can live in between these two great, very deep bench economic zones and yet have a very high quality of life and affordable cost of living.
Continue listening to the podcast for these discussions:
Tech Clusters in Asia: Parag Khanna offers some excellent insights.
A “Masterclass” in public speaking (featuring the fearless Lucy Kellaway of the Financial Times)
The future of Cuba/US relations, post Fidel Castro: I’m predicting the business opportunity will be irresistible for President Trump and we’ll soon see a tech hub in Havana, as well as a brand new Trump tower.
To explore other interviews and reports for the BBC, check out the BBC Archives at Fresh Dialogues.
NB: This report and other BBC Reports and BBC Dialogues at Fresh Dialogues are shown here for demonstration purposes. The copyright of this radio report remains with the BBC.
By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues
The race to build the “ultimate” electric car is heating up. Every month, it seems another electric car company joins the fray to offer a car stylish enough to attract the Tesla crowd, and affordable enough to meet the growing demand from China, the United States and Europe.
NextEV stands out from the crowd for two reasons:
- It has solid backing, from a broad range of top venture capital and Internet companies like Sequoia and Tencent.
2. Its Silicon Valley R&D facility is led by Padmasree Warrior, “The Queen of the Electric Car” and she’s rapidly attracting top tech talent from the likes of Tesla and Apple.
Last month, I attended the grand opening of NextEV Silicon Valley and interviewed its founder, William Li. He shared his “Blue Sky” ambition (he means it literally) and how his grandfather inspired him to go from cattle herder to Internet multi-millionaire. It was the first interview he’d ever done in English. I filed this report for the BBC World Service’s Tech Program, Click.
Here’s a transcript from today’s program, with some great insights from host Gareth Mitchell and BBC contributor, Bill Thompson. The transcript has been edited for length and clarity:
BBC Host, Gareth Mitchell: One event that did happen was the recent launch of yet another electric vehicle outfit in California. This is the Silicon Valley division of a Chinese startup called NextEV. The champagne flowed and the ribbon was cut – the digital ribbon – but our reporter Alison van Diggelen was most interested in the economics of it all. You don’t need to be an investor to know just how risky these ventures are as the technology gradually matures. In California and China state funding and tax breaks are all part of getting these businesses off the ground. Alison tracked down NextEV founder, former cattle herder and now big time entrepreneur, William Li.
Alison van Diggelen: At NextEV’s Silicon Valley launch, William Li confirmed that on November 21st, NextEV will reveal its first supercar in London. The electric car is expected to offer a 0-60 acceleration in under three seconds. Its Formula E racing team has used a dual-motor setup on its race car, and it’s likely to be a feature of the supercar. (The top speed of the sleek two-seater will be over 180 mph, and its price is likely to be equally extravagant!)
NextEV is late join to the electric car race. So how does Li intend to challenge Tesla and the dozens of electric car companies popping up worldwide?
William Li: Tesla is a great company, I respect them. But Tesla was founded 2003. Lots changed. It’s a mobile internet era. We can do better to communicate with our users, give our users a much better holistic user experience.
He aims to do for the car what Apple did for the smart phone.
He learned a lot about user experience from Bit Auto, a popular web portal in China and his first business success. He’s now built a global startup – with facilities in Beijing, Shanghai, Silicon Valley, London and Munich. The global workforce is 2000.
In Silicon Valley, its 250-strong team of auto and software experts is growing rapidly. U.S. CEO Padmasree Warrior – former CTO at Cisco – is hiring experts in artificial intelligence, voice interaction and user interface from the likes of Tesla, Apple and Dropbox. Warrior says they’re already working on affordable cars for China’s burgeoning demand.
Padmasree Warrior: In China, There’s a large shift happening … Environment issues are driving the government to look at electric vehicles as part of the solution… It’s healthier for the environment to drive an electric vehicle.
China is offering generous tax incentives to electric carmakers and consumers, driving a flood of companies into the space. NextEV recently signed an agreement with the Nanjing Municipal Government in China, to build a $500 million factory to build electric motors.
Similarly in Silicon Valley, a fleet of electric car companies has chosen to locate here, thanks to state tax incentives and the strong talent base. These include Tesla, Atieva, and Le Eco.
I spoke with California’s Director of Economic Development, Panorea Avdis. She explained how state policy is helping reduce greenhouse gas emissions, by focusing on the tech industry…
Panorea Avdis: The goal is to have 1 million electric zero emission vehicles on the road by 2020.
(Today, California has about 300,000 electric cars, about half of the nation’s total.)
Alison: NextEV secured $10M in tax credits. Tell me why that’s cost effective for the people of California.
Panorea Avdis: The return on investment…nearly 1000 jobs in the next 5 years, speaks for itself. California is leading the way, there’s no other state in the union that has this type of aggressive polices and it’s really inspiring this innovation in technology to come forward.
But making cars is notoriously hard. News broke this month that Apple is shelving its electric car plans to focus on self-driving software.
William Li knows it’s a tough road ahead. He gives his company just over a 50% chance of success.
As a boy, Li was a cattle herder in China. He’s come a long way and credits his grandfather’s wisdom:
William Li: [Speaks first in Mandarin ] The journey is more important than the result. So follow your heart….your original wish. Don’t worry about failure.
Like Tesla’s Elon Musk, Li is concerned about climate change and also the dense smog in Beijing and Shanghai. He blames polluting gas-guzzling cars.
NextEV’s brand in China is called “Way-Lye”
William Li: It means blue sky coming. That’s my original wish.
It’s an ambitious goal that could be a very long way off, especially in China’s congested and polluted cities.
Gareth Mitchell: That’s Alison van Diggelen reporting from Silicon Valley. So Bill Thompson – the journey is more important that the result?
Bill Thompson: The result is much more important than the journey here, because unless we get much cleaner public and personal transport, then we’re in big trouble. It’s really good to see another serious entrant in this market. It’s not sewn up yet by anyone. As we heard there about Tesla, there’s no first mover advantage because the technology is developing so quickly.
We know Padmasree Warrior’s reputation for delivering. She’s been on the show a few years back. She was senior at Motorola, then went to Cisco. They’ve got really good people.
But the really interesting part of this is what happens in China. In China because they have much more control over what people can do. The government can actually mandate a move to electric vehicles much more easily than they ever could in California and that gives a great market. So NextEV may be getting money and expertise over in Silicon Valley, but it’s what happens in China that’s really interesting.
Gareth Mitchell: I was interested in the economics side of the piece: the reliance partly on state funding to get these businesses going.
Bill Thompson: Occasionally state funding helps. You might have heard of this little thing called the Internet, kicked off with defense department funding from the US. It did pretty well by being able to rely on that funding for a critical period while it developed and then was able to be used by the private sector. One or two of these examples of it actually working…
(Photo: Thanks to Breakthrough Silicon Valley, Nahom Zeratsion (left) got a scholarship for Bellarmine College Preparatory and will be attending San Jose State University this Fall)
In Silicon Valley, it’s easy to focus on the bright stars of tech and innovation. But what about those people who don’t feature on the home page of TechCrunch and can barely afford their rent? Today, Silicon Valley’s income inequality is jaw-dropping; average incomes of the top 5% of households are about 30 times higher than the average incomes of the bottom 20% ($500,000 vs $15,000). One startup has a long-term vision and is successfully breaking the cycle of poverty in some Silicon Valley neighborhoods by helping low income students get a college education.
Here are the stats from Breakthrough Silicon Valley:
80% of students are first in their family to attend college
62% of students live in gang-impacted neighborhoods
And yet, 96% of these students get into 4-year colleges, 4% into community colleges.
Earlier this year, I sat down with Melissa Johns, the Executive Director of Breakthrough Silicon Valley to find out how she and her team achieve such impressive stats, and how their program has a ripple effect on the wider community. Although the majority of the nonprofit’s revenue comes from the tech community, its limited budget means the team can only reach a few hundred students every year. With a proven and successful platform like this, imagine what could be done if tech juggernauts like Google, Apple and Cisco stepped up to help scale this program?
The BBC World Service was curious to explore this less glamorous – and yet inspiring – side of Silicon Valley and aired my interview on Business Matters.
Here’s the podcast
And here’s a transcript of our conversation (edited for length and clarity):
The BBC’s Roger Hearing: Alison, you’ve been looking at the people who work in Silicon Valley…and income inequality in the area?
Alison van Diggelen: Yes, there’s a growing gap between the rich and the poor in Silicon Valley. It’s quite stunning. Last week, I interviewed the Executive Director of Breakthrough Silicon Valley. It’s a nonprofit that’s helping low income students break out of poverty by getting a college education. That’s the ticket to success in Silicon Valley and beyond. Melissa Johns runs the six year program: tutoring, mentoring and college counseling and her team has impressive statistics (see above). I talked to Melissa about the many shortcomings of California’s public education system. She told me that on average there’s only one college counselor for every 700 students in California’s public high schools. That’s one thing she would like to fix.
Melissa Johns: I don’t know how we’re going to do the things we need to – to fill the STEM pipeline of future engineers or Silicon Valley is going to crumble. We need to find more women for leadership positions in our Fortune 500 companies. How are we going to achieve all that when the vast majority of our population is left behind because they’re attending schools that are under resourced and they have college dreams with no real connection to a college counselor who can help them walk through the very complex process?
Roger Hearing: But Alison, I gather that there’s a huge number of dropouts there in Silicon Valley high schools?
Alison van Diggelen: Yes, there’s a lot of talk here about the dropout crisis. East San Jose, in the heart of Silicon Valley has dropout rates as high as 30% in some communities and the majority of that are students who complete high school but don’t meet the minimum level of credits to graduate. But the good news is: there are a number of nonprofits working to have an impact, and these Breakthrough students are having an enormous impact on their communities. It’s like the multiplier effect in economics. Here’s Melissa Johns (below) explaining The Ripple Effect.
Melissa Johns: When I look at the tremendous obstacles a student has to overcome to become the first in their family to graduate from college. There’s a huge amount of culture shock… but also there’s a lot of fighting that impostor syndrome…I’m so impressed by students who can fight all of that inner talk that tells them they can’t do it and persevere. So they can then have an economic future that they can be proud of and excited about because they get to choose a career and not just a job. They start a positive ripple effect for any younger siblings, any neighbors, any cousins, who look at what their achievement is and say: well if she did it, I can do it too! The expectations that change in a family, in a community are amazingly impressive.
Roger Hearing: Alison, what’s interesting about this is the area we’re talking about, Silicon Valley: massive high tech businesses. Are they willing, interested in employing people from these kind of communities and trying to take advantage of the education they’ve got?
Keep listening to hear more about:
Diversity in Silicon Valley
How the Singapore education system compares
The challenge of social mobility: How Breakthrough kids are choosing careers, not just jobs, and breaking out of the cycle of poverty.
Find out more about Silicon Valley nonprofits bridging the college gap:
City Year (uses Americorps, a government funded program to work in schools),
College Track (largely funded by Laurene Powell, the widow of Steve Jobs)
KIPP (a national charter school network)
Downtown College Prep school in San Jose, and in Palo Alto
Broadway High School – continuation school for at risk youth – with vocational focus
SV Community Foundation – assembles donations from many sources, gives ~$2M annually to education programs/schools.
Read more from Fresh Dialogues Inspiring Women Series
Please Note: Links to all my BBC contributions on Fresh Dialogues are to my personal portfolio of audio and text. Copyright of my BBC broadcast works remain with the BBC.
By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues
Sometimes I wonder if anyone is actually listening to my late night conversations with London on the BBC World Service. Well, I just found out that, YES they are. And some listeners are even sharing these conversation with influential people.
This summer, my producer told me that my conversation with the BBC’s Fergus Nicoll was used for “training purposes” at the BBC’s headquarters in London. We were discussing my interview with Instagram’s COO Marne Levine and how male champions can really help women succeed in business.
Curious? I was too.
Here’s a link to the featured clip at the BBC and a shorter (90 second) version below:
From the BBC’s Business Matters feature:
Instagram’s Chief Operating Officer Marne Levine is mentored by Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg – a beneficial relationship given their similar career paths. Alison van Diggelen, from the Fresh Dialogues initiative that focuses on inspirational women and business innovation, describes how women can really benefit when they have male champions too and challenges Mark Zuckerberg to ‘step up.’
Here’s a transcript of our conversation (edited for length and clarity):
Alison van Diggelen: One thing that female entrepreneurs in positions of leadership have told me that will help, is for women to have male champions. People like Mark Zuckerberg and Google’s Sundar Pichai have to step up and be champions of women and make it easy for their teams to not just attract, but retain women. Offering childcare on-site is a large part of that…
Fergus Nicoll: So making sure that the onus is not always on female executives to have female mentees?
Alison van Diggelen: Yes, absolutely. It has to be shared. One of the things that was repeated time and time again at the Bay Area Women’s Summit, where I interviewed Marne Levine (COO of Instagram), is that the United States doesn’t have universal paid family leave. Quite a few companies in Silicon Valley are offering it (often in paltry amounts, by European standards), but it needs to be federally mandated in order for the U.S. to remain globally competitive. That was one of the messages that came over loud and clear.
It’s well accepted here (in Silicon Valley), the advantages of diversity: having males and females on the team can increase the bottom line, creativity, innovation and meeting the needs of this diverse clientele. That’s well proven, but these companies are having to step up and try harder to attract and retain these women.
Find out more about inspiring women in business:
TaskRabbit’s CEO, Stacy Brown Philpot is one of the few black, female CEOs in tech. What is she doing for women and diversity in tech?
Meet some of the top women in tech in our Fresh Dialogues Inspiring Women Series