Sammi Veronie, a senior at Show Low High School in Arizona, has always been an idea person. In order to remember the things that inspired her, she would write thoughts into a notebook or shoot and store inspirational images on her phone.
Six months ago, Veronie, 17, discovered a new way to remember her muses. After seeing the site, Pinterest, show up on her Google image search results, she requested an invitation to join. Pinterest is an online board that allows users to store, organize and share images and ideas. Veronie was instantly hooked.
She uses the site regularly, collecting things such as gift ideas, craft projects, recipes and hairstyles to try. To help organize the creative brainstorm, individual categories are separated onto their own pin-boards and like-minded pictures are ‘pinned’ accordingly. “I love Pinterest so much I’ve even started future boards — for example, a wedding and a future children board — so everything I like is all in one spot for years down the road when they’ll come in handy,” she says.
A ‘Valley’ of Semiconductors
Started by a small team in Palo Alto, Calif., Pinterest is a relatively new company that has catapulted into the public eye. The site reported 11 million U.S. unique visitors in January 2012, according to digital marketing intelligence firm comScore, which only began monitoring Pinterest activity in May 2011, when the number of unique visitors edged above 400,000.
It is another success story to come out of Silicon Valley, a region in northern California – some 40 miles south of San Francisco — known for its technology entrepreneurs. Even before the Internet was a household name, the term Silicon Valley was coined as a tribute to the semiconductor industry that was thriving in California’s Santa Clara Valley. Silicon refers to the material used to make commercially available semiconductors, which conduct electricity and are the foundation of modern electronics, including computers and telephones.
Today, bolstered by eager investors, a strong network of educational institutions and the close locale of thousands of high-technology companies, Silicon Valley has expanded its reputation and influence as a hotbed of technology innovation. Residents run the gamut, from the semiconductor innovators who inspired the name, to software companies, to Internet sites. “The Valley” is a Who’s Who of tech success, including the birthplace and current headquarters of Facebook in Palo Alto, the humble beginnings of Apple in Steve Jobs’s garage in Los Altos and now the headquarters in Cupertino, and the home base of visionary Elon Musk’s Tesla Motors, maker of premium electric vehicles, also in Palo Alto. Not impressed? The list also includes eBay, Google, Yahoo and Zynga.
Perhaps as important as the region’s emphasis on technology is its culture of entrepreneurialism. In Silicon Valley, “entrepreneurs are seen as pioneers and heroes, which is different than many other regions around the world,” says Chris Gill, CEO of SVForum, a nonprofit organization in Redwood City, Calif., that seeks to inspire and support technologists and entrepreneurs through education, networking opportunities and funding.
Gill, who says that “most start-up businesses fail,” believes Silicon Valley is “very forgiving of entrepreneurs and startups not achieving the success they were originally looking for — provided they learn from it.” The business culture within the region encourages new ventures, and since many more people these days are trying to start businesses, inevitably it will “result in more successes,” he adds.
Silicon Valley companies that succeed share some common traits, says Gill. “The hunger and passion of the team seems to be more important than almost anything else, with the possible exception of market timing and luck.”
“The Valley” is also known for its large number of younger workers, which contributes to a relaxed, t-shirt, flip-flop-wearing vibe. This is demonstrated clearly by the median age of employees at top technology companies. According to Payscale.com, the median age of Apple employees is 33, while 26 is the average age of workers at Facebook. Of the top nine companies listed in the survey, seven had a median age of under 40.
Omar Seyal, 31, is a technology entrepreneur operating in Silicon Valley. Nine months ago he co-founded Tagstand, a company that provides Near Field Communication (NFC) tags, labels and stickers. NFC is an emerging technology that allows the exchange of data through a simple tap and not a swipe. An example of an NFC application is touching an NFC-enabled smart phone to an advertisement label in order to retrieve further information.
Seyal was fortunate to get into Y Combinator, a well-respected business incubator in Mountain View, Calif., that is specifically designed to support the development of digital entrepreneurs. Y Combinator is one of many Silicon Valley-focused venture capital firms, which provide money and support to promising start-ups, often for a stake in the companies in which they invest. Founded by Paul Graham, Y Combinator mass-produces start-ups, funding between 40 and 60 ideas every six months, including such successes as Dropbox, Justin.tv and Airbnb. The program provided start-up money and required Seyal to attend a three-month boot camp in the summer of 2011. “They work with you and give you prototype deadlines. They have weekly meetings with you, and then the last deadline is ‘Demo Day’, where you bring your vision to life before a crowd of investors,” says Seyal.
‘It’s Never Too Early’
Silicon Valley has played an instrumental role in the fledging company, adds Seyal. Being located in Silicon Valley is helpful “because so many people are in the same boat with you.” Aside from the camaraderie and immersion in an environment that encourages entrepreneurs, the region has other advantages. “People take you more seriously when you are in Silicon Valley. I think it’s necessary to be where your customers are.”
Seyal started his first company shortly after college and began developing his technology skills while in high school. For high school students who think they may have the next great technology idea, Seyal says, “Do it. That’s literally my advice. If someone thinks they have a great idea, they should start working on it. They should start using their skills. It’s never too early.”
What is your latest tech passion? Does it have ties to Silicon Valley?
What is innovation? Why is a region like Silicon Valley so valuable to innovation? Need more innovation insight? Educators and students should check out the PwC-KWHS podcast series on “Innovation and the Art of Problem-solving.”
What is a business incubator? Read this story about teen entrepreneur Andrew Swerdlow. How did an incubator-type organization help him get started in business? What did he get out of working there?