A visiting investor in White Star recently asked me to arrange a visit to “Tech City” in London. I had to explain that, unfortunately, there was no physical building called Tech City. While government-led PR efforts have given the budding ecosystem in East London the name, there was, until recently, no visible, iconic building, that could proudly represent the vibrancy and change that is taking place in this part of town.
Google Campus has been an amazing initiative and a hub of activity from Seedcamp weeks to master classes, but it is far from iconic and, divided across several floors with a lift that seems to be broken a lot of the time, hard to navigate.
Tony Hsieh of Zappos fame has publicly spoken about the need for serendipity and collisions (random encounters that generate new outcomes) in his own efforts to make downtown Las Vegas into an entrepreneurial and vibrant cultural hub. For that serendipity to happen you need both a density of people and a certain level of social engineering to make those collisions happen “naturally.”
In his book, Where Good Ideas Come From Steven Johnson dissects some of the great innovations of our age and how these came about through parallel processes and people coming together at the right place and at the right time and how “the best ideas come from building on the ideas and inventions of others.”
What technology ecosystems need are lighthouses: iconic venues whose signal attracts the required density and wherein a level of curation and social engineering leads to people and ideas colliding to drive incremental benefits for the community.
In London, we recently moved into an amazing new building called Second Home. It could be described as a co-working space, but what the founders Rohan Silva and Sam Aldenton have created is so much more than that. First of all, it has already become an iconic building in East London thanks to the amazing design of famed Spanish firm Selgas Cano. People are literally walking in from the street to take pictures…
Secondly, the 19,000 square feet provide enough density of people for those collisions to happen, and its iconic nature attracts even more (Saul Klein of Index “stopped by” the other day, Kathryn Parsons of Decoded was holding court at the restaurant, WIRED hosted a dinner here last week).
Thirdly, the community is curated – it is not only tech startups (or in our case tech investors), it also includes creative agencies, an Oculus studio, a company that helps you learn Chinese).
And finally, there is a sense of community that is brought to life through social and cultural programs, from movie screenings to hosting a Google Solve for [X] event, to renowned speakers that help draw the community (both tenants and the broader London creative community at large) together.
In full disclosure, I am a personal investor in the Second Home project and White Star Capital is also the “resident VC” there. But I use Second Home as an example of lighthouses that also has parallels in other cities.
In Paris, Xavier Niel is set to open a 320,000 square foot space for 1,000 startups. Notman House in Montreal has taken a classic building and turned it into a vibrant (and iconic) hub of the city’s budding entrepreneurial scene. One could argue that “the house that John built”, Betaworks in New York’s meatpacking district has become a symbol of that part of the city’s emergence as the heart of the city’s entrepeneurial vibe (even before Google moved into the neighborhood). In Berlin, the Factory is a 170,000 square foot building that houses iconic Berlin companies like Soundcloud, but also Google Campus and Twitter.
These lighthouses serve as a rallying point for entrepreneurs, creative talent, founders and funders in these cities and provide a signal to the rest of the city,the nation and the world of their vibrancy and ambition.