On June 28th we had the opportunity to visit for the first time Silicon Valley and Stanford University, the Mecca of entrepreneurship. We all were very excited to walk through the streets of Palo Alto, feeling the atmosphere of Stanford and learning how things work here. I can say that the experience overpassed our expectations.
We had lunch with Aitzol Garcia Echarri, a Basque telecommunication engineer who works as a researcher on campus. His projects are related to the study of light and how it interacts with psychical elements. His passion has always been understanding how things work and make new discoveries. It was very interesting to listen to him and learn how research is done in the US. First, there is a strong link among universities and companies. Here companies support universities with resources, money and facilities in order to take advantage of their technology and disruptive advances. One good example is Stanford University where the most important source of revenue are donations made by companies and professionals. These contributions are so high that the University could afford not to charge students for the classes. Due to this close collaboration there is a steady transfer of people and knowledge from one to the other, which in the long run contributes to the advance of both.
On the other hand we have Spain, whose situation is completely opposite. There are many barriers to innovation and research, and the relationship among universities and companies are far from existing. In Spain it is extremely hard to make people understand that money spent on research is the best possible investment for the future.
This is mainly because in Spain there is a lack of a risk culture. Spaniards do not understand how venture Capital works. In the US they have investment been investing under risk principles for years, and they assume that only one out of 10 projects succeeds. The key of this business is understanding risk.
Another big difference between USA and Spain is attitude. In America people that have ambitions are well seen, but in Spain, in my personal opinion, they are considered a bit strange. Spaniards who spend time researching on something they love are seen like a little bit geeks, but in USA they are considered as motivated people that fight for their passions.
In addition, in America there is an extremely opposite interpretation of failure. Companies look for people that have failed before, because they consider that a person learns more from a failure than from 5 successes. Moreover, when something does not work people focus on changing it and improving it. In Spain, it feels as if when this happens we usually look for whose fault it is.
From my point of view this culture also has its “not so good” characteristics. Americans are normally more individualists and more focused in their professional goals than latins, mainly because their society considers success as having a successful career or business. In addition, for what I have been able to see, they do not have such a strong concept of friendship as Spanish have. It seems as if people frequently move from one place to another, leaving many things behind. As I said before, it is true that Americans give more money to Universities and their projects than what is given in Spain, but to tell the truth I think it is not completely done without interest.
They have the culture of success and they believe that they have to return a part of what they received in the past. Aitzol thinks it is a way of being recognized in your community and leaving your footprint in this world rather than just contributing.
Finally, there are several legends about Silicon Valley. One of them is the high level of the people studying and working here. It is true that they are brilliant people, but so are we. There is a problem called the impostor’s syndrome. It happens to foreign people that come to study here and they think that they are not good enough to be here. It is very common, but with time you finally realize that it is not about the knowledge you have, but about your attitude.
In Spain we have the opportunity to receive good education and teenagers are growing up with interests and good attitude. Aitzol is sure that all we need is to believe in our capacities and stop listening to people around us that tell us it is not possible. Finally, he says, it is all about fighting for your dreams.
“Do what you love, and the rest will come”