Print Edition - 2014-07-25  |  Oped

Our own Silicon Valley

  • The creation of a Special Economic Zone for Ideas would help foster entrepreneurs and innovators
Our own Silicon Valley

Jul 24, 2014-The spate of innovations emerging from the US’ Silicon Valley, Beijing’s Zhongguancun district, India’s Bangalore or any other technology and creative hub—which promotes entrepreneurship, competition and knowledge sharing for innovation—is proof enough of the model’s success. Many countries have attempted to replicate Silicon Valley, a dream place for innovators, inventors and tech entrepreneurs.

Such bold dream seems to be missing in the context of the Nepali economy, its planning and budget allocation. Due to the centralised nature of our economic activities and planning, we have yet to realise the vision of such ‘Special Economic Zones for Ideas’, where the best and the brightest come together to create and innovate. This article argues why planning and investment in such Special Economic Zones for talented individuals is a must if we are to push our economy further, provide hope for young entrepreneurs and talent who see a better future abroad, and restore faith among others in the future of this country.

The value of hubs

Let us succinctly discuss what makes Silicon Valley so special. As argued in the paper, ‘Social Networks in Silicon Valley,’ one of the many key qualities that makes the Valley so special is its network. In a network, ties between two actors have both strength and content. The level of trust in a tie is very crucial in Silicon Valley, as it is elsewhere. A dense network with many connections that share a vision to create new products, change the world or any other noble goal makes it easy for one’s reputation and product to spread. Ties act as a social glue for mutual support, promote collective learning, and provide opportunities for cross-institutional collaboration within close proximity. This makes it easier for genuine, aspiring entrepreneurs to advance their vision.

Now the question is, ‘Is there such a place in Nepal?’ Is there a support system for people to test out their ideas among networks with the required expertise, farsightedness and shared goals? As an entrepreneur who has spent four years working and promoting various ventures in Nepal, I would be quite pessimistic in my answers to these questions. Furthermore, has our collective psychology evolved from favouring unhealthy competition?

The story of ‘pulling another’s leg’ rather than pushing their back is often illustrated with the story of a jarful of hard working Nepali ants being taken to South Korea for a test. Each jar from another country had a lid to prevent the ants from escaping. For Nepal, as the story goes, the ants needed no lid. If any of the ants attempted to escape the jar, others would pull its leg and thwart the attempt. It is very unfortunate that this story is cited so often in many discussions. Such an attitude may not be limited to business but can also be traced to politics as well. It could very well hold us back from achieving our true potential.

Nepali successes

Despite these difficulties, Nepal has had many individual success/failure stories. A 16-year-old 10th grader, with no formal training, surprised everybody in Baglung with the successful trial run of a self-made solar-powered vehicle. A Nepali scientist, Ruchit Kumar Regmi, has been chosen to be awarded with a patent for the invention of a ‘Pilotless Aircraft for Commercial and Military Use’ by the US Department of Commerce. Another pioneer in the Nepali energy market, Kushal Gurung, has been trying to promote off-grid, on-grid wind energy projects in hydro-focussed Nepal. Another returnee to Nepal, Prem Sagar, has spent a decade promoting a laboratory for research on science and technology, losing most of his savings in this pursuit.

Entrepreneurs for Nepal, a Facebook group, the Sambriddhi Foundation and Biruwa Ventures are other great examples working to promote entrepreneurship. The story of individual effort, success, and even failure is limitless in Nepal. As entrepreneurs, we share many stories of failure and success with each other for psychological support. The question, however, remains, if the government has supported these brilliant minds in Nepal.

Investing in citizens

In a recent op-ed by Swarnim Wagle on July 16 edition of this paper, titled, ‘Budgeting for Bikas,’ the author argued for the need of a consensual agenda that propels us to a higher trajectory of rapid, broad-based economic growth. It is vital that such an agenda not limit the nation’s planning for various sectors of economic growth, but it has to take into account the investment the state should be ready to make in its human resource—its citizens. The economic success of countries like Singapore, a country with limited resources, can be traced to its investment in its citizens. Without investment in citizens, growth can sometime lead to higher inequality and unfair income distribution. That should not be the trajectory we should head towards.

In a discussion held on June 19, titled ‘Today for a Better Tomorrow: A Green, Creative and Civic Gandaki Zone’, many entrepreneurs from Pokhara raised their voices on a common theme—the need for a hub for entrepreneurs and innovators. People who have yet to convert their idea into a marketable product give up easy because of the lack of a fund or a psychological support system. Hence, there is a need for a Special Economic Zone for the brilliant minds within our society to collaborate, compete, and showcase their talent, and invite others who would be willing to pursue their own dreams.

Such hubs can be a focal point for anyone aspiring to create products and businesses that can help make society a better place. A community of start-ups in such a Special Economic Zone for Ideas, within close proximity via planned gentrification, can be a model to promote youth to be ready to play their part in the economic growth of this country. The hub could be a powerful voice for economic and policy reform. The question remains, can the government help pursue the dream of many aspiring entrepreneurs and innovators for a better tomorrow? It is vital to channel our thoughts in these directions, because in the age of globalisation, these talents may not have difficulty finding a home outside of Nepal, where their skills and talent are often very well appreciated. Such a brain drain would be truly unfortunate for the economic vibrancy of this great country.

Dhakal is the President of 8848 Inc

Published: 25-07-2014 09:07

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