Building Silicon Valley of the North is a Marathon.
None of the great civilizations of the world were built in a day. Neither the Roman, Mayan, Aztec or British Empires were built in a day. They took centuries to build. You have probably heard the proverb ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’. This usually comes up when you are trying to accomplish something difficult or complicated that takes time and an outsider tries to placate your frustration and says this followed quickly by you rolling your eyes.
Silicon Valley is considered the ‘empire’ of the technology community and as fast as the tech community moves, not even this great empire was built in a day though it does feel that way by comparison. It has taken more than 100 years for the Silicon Valley to become the technology hub it is known for today.
“In the late 1800s, San Francisco’s port helped make it a hub of the early telegraph and radio industries. In 1909, San José became home to one of the US’s first radio stations. In 1933, the Navy purchased Moffett Field to dock and maintain the USS Macon. This made Moffett Field a major hub for the early days of the aerospace industry. Many scientists and researchers all found work in the area. In 1939, the Ames Research Center was founded in the area, and it became home to the world’s largest wind tunnel in 1949.
Also in 1939, William Hewlett and Dave Packard founded Hewlett-Packard in Palo Alto, which originally made oscilloscopes. Then, during World War II, HP made radar and artillery technology. At this point, computers were about the size of a room.”
Though many of the great civilizations have taken several hundreds if not thousands of years for their accomplishments, Silicon Valley seems to be an overnight development by comparison. The question we are really trying to answer here is how does a tech community model the development and accomplishments found in Silicon Valley?
YYChain is one of those organizations who are working to build a Silicon Valley north of the border.
“YYChain is a member-driven organization focused upon upgrading Calgary blockchain ecosystem from research, industrial and legal perspectives.
Founded in 2018, YYChain acts as a keystone organization, drawing together the people and organizations from which new blockchain opportunities will emerge. YYChain works with its members to share opportunities and support a culture of trust inspired by the Rainforest.”
Victor Hwang’s whitepaper ‘The Rainforest: How “Chicago Thinking” Explains Silicon Valley’ was written to explain how a tech community like Silicon Valley develops and thrives. Hwang compares and contrasts the agricultural/plantation model of development to that of a Rainforest. Where the cropland from a plantation is very carefully planned and optimized for efficiency, the Rainforest provides more of a bustling environment for ALL organisms to grow and thrive and does so very unpredictably.
The Rainforest model is often used to model how innovation systems evolve. This is what Terry Ross, the founder of the YYChain Innovation Association, is working to create.
As a young man, Terry has always been interested in technology and innovation. After completing his degree in Psychology, he had met Dr. Robin Black, with the National Research Council at the time, who challenged him to educate people about business innovation. From there, Terry completed his Master’s in Business Administration (MBA) and went on to work for the Alberta Ministry of Innovation and Science. Since then, Terry had worked with ICORE which was merged into Alberta Innovates and currently works with the University of Calgary at the Schulich School of Engineering.
Terry founded YYChain early in 2018 and was started to “identify the enthusiastic and empowered people from industry and government and academia. The goal is to give them an education about Blockchain and its potential which is changing so rapidly and ensure they’re up on the basics to help connect them together so that they can explore their own opportunities.”
SPARK THE FIRE THAT RAGES IN TECHNOLOGY
The tech industry in Silicon Valley is not the result of a single event, but a series of events that needed a spark as well as the fuel from industry, government and academics to grow into the raging technology fire that it is today.
YYChain is well on its way to be the spark and providing the fuel needed to build the same industry in Calgary.
“My goal is to try and create environments where people can understand what each other are doing and connect effectively. Then if there are sparks, to work and help support them to knock objects out of their way so they can grow initiatives” says Terry. He also suggests that this becomes far more challenging because part of this movement will require us to develop new opportunities and new markets. Especially when many of these opportunities and markets are found outside of Calgary.
A problem that Silicon Valley had faced head on and solved. During the dot com boom, almost ALL of the markets and opportunities were outside of California and, as it turns out, worldwide. YYChain’s role in helping to build a Silicon Valley of the North will closely resemble that of the early adopters and supporters in the early stages of Silicon Valley’s development.
What types of industry, legal, academic and policy leaders are involved and how does their involvement support YYChain’s reason for being?
TR: There are the initial champions that we have on our board now who have been supportive. So, we have people from the start-up industry who have been mentoring start-ups in various forms. People who have been involved in tech start-ups such as Imaginea AI, GuildOne and TerraHub. We also have representatives from Alberta Treasury Branch and the head of the Blockchain practice for Miller Thompson, a nationwide law firm. Right now, the people who supported YYChain with their time and treasure at this point are focused on getting the organization established and solving real needs.
In 5 years from today, what would you like to see accomplished in the innovation/technology space in Calgary (and Alberta)?
TR: I would like the blockchain ecosystem in Calgary to be well established and well recognized globally. I would like us to have fairly strong niches of expertise and capabilities that are recognized as being valuable for a long period of time. I think after 5 years we will probably be set up for success. I don’t think we will have achieved the big successes yet. I think that is going to come 5-10 years from now. The 5 years that are coming are basically going to be laying the foundation, plowing the fields, fertilizing, getting the seeds in the ground, planning the sort of things to plant in the ground and after 5 years is when we will start to see significant sprouts and things grow that we can harvest.
What are the 1 or 2 important messages you would like to pass on to our young readers and their parents?
TR: The first thing I would pass on is to make upgrading your skills and knowledge a lifelong endeavor and enjoy it. I think kids can realize that nobody wants to be the person trying to make something cool with obsolete tools. There is value in upgrading your skills and what you have going on as well. I think also learning to take smart risks. One of my favourite sayings is ‘that there is no growth in the comfort zone and there is no comfort in the growth zone.’ If you’re feeling comfortable, you’re not growing. Get used to the idea of being uncomfortable and don’t shy away from that.
All great civilizations take time to build. Building them is not an accident or chance. It took Silicon Valley over 100 years to become an overnight success. It took a massive community to deliberately focus on the direction and forward moving action steps to build the tech community they have today.
With the help of organizations like YYChain and people like Terry Ross, Calgary is well on its way to becoming the Silicon Valley of the North.
YYChain Innovation Association (YYChain) is a not-for-profit organization run by industry, legal, academic and policy leaders who are passionate about the opportunity for Calgary to lead in the strategic development and utilization of blockchain technologies.
YYChain is committed to working with its members to achieve the following objectives:
- Economic development activities that support the blockchain sector
- Educating and mentoring individuals about the basics of blockchain technology
- Providing support for emerging projects and researchers
- Networking Alberta stakeholders with an interest in blockchain technology
 Business Insider (May 2017). https://www.businessinsider.com/silicon-valley-history-technology-industry-animated-timeline-video-2017-5