Silicon Valley’s loss could be Vegas’ gain

There’s thought.

And there’s process.

It’s a delicate mix. Too much thought and we get navel gazing. Too much process and we get red tape.

When they work together well, we get thought process.

I’ve spent some time trying to process a thoughtful Tech Crunch piece and fathom its possible impact on Las Vegas. I’ll ask you to decide whether it’s been time well spent.

The basic premise is that the Stanford University-Silicon Valley collaboration – the efficient and highly profitable symbiotic relationship that has produced the greatest innovation environment in human history – is about to self-destruct.

The cause? What else but the same disruptive technology that made Palo Alto famous.

The premise is that technology – the Internet, various video meeting applications, collaborative software — have made place largely irrelevant for both the academic world and the venture capital wor

Stanford – like many other fine universities – is offering courses and even whole degrees in a virtual world. So a bright kid in Pocatello or Paris could stay home and get the same education without having to leave their farm for The Farm.

Sure, they’re missing something if they can’t dance with the Tree after a football victory but is that really worth north of $50,000 a year? Even a beer-infused study group is possible in a virtual world.

And then there’s the venture-sphere. Part of the allure of having a start-up in Silicon Valley is access to the expertise of the best business minds. But with more and more multi-millionaires being minted in every corner of the world, neither the money nor the expertise is unique to Silicon Valley. Investment and mentorship can function just fine via technology.

Part of the symbiotic relationship has been the bright kids seeking a start in their careers and talent-hungry start-ups in need of people willing to work for stock options and survive on Ramen. The examples of successful virtual teams working across continents abound.

So, if we follow the logic of the Tech Crunch piece, all that strip of land from San Francisco to San Jose has going for it is curb appeal. Is that enough to justify obscene real estate prices and earthquakes, droughts and fires?

For entrepreneurs like Darin MacDonald, whose tech company is featured on today’s cover, the answer is no. He decided he could save a bunch of money by moving to Las Vegas and working in a virtual world from the comfort of a condo in the Northwest valley.

What would it take for Las Vegas to replicate McDonald’s thought process?

The key elements seem to be in place in the state’s business-friendly approach to taxation and regulation (gaming aside). Fold in low real estate costs, modest cost of living and a climate that just doesn’t do drama.

Sure, we need access to a better educated workforce if we’re going to build something like Tesla batteries or medical devices. But for much of the new economy – that part that doesn’t rely on making stuff – the bright kids are available in the virtual world.

That would seem to bring the argument back to curb appeal. We are the self-proclaimed Entertainment Capital of the World, a place where the party never ends and over-the-top is a way of life. But would Hewlett and Packard, Jobs and the Woz ever have innovated anything if they were out partying til dawn?

We even have a Silicon Valley-like tolerance for second chances, a place that loves a Phoenix-from-the-ashes narrative. But our problem seems to be how to get a first chance, to get over being labeled an adult amusement zone rather than a business center.

The Tesla deal got Nevada in the game as a business destination. Next step is for Southern Nevada to land a big fish that isn’t in the entertainment or gaming sphere.

And we need to come across as serious players to a broader audience, including the many business audiences that come through here. It’s not as simple as setting up a booth – like other states and foreign nations have done – but it’s a start. So too will be a successful Global Business District, an expanded Convention Center, an upgrade of UNLV to Tier I status and some courting of the 21st Century dukes of capitalism who run the hedge fund/venture fund world.

That bad news for Stanford and Silicon Valley may be just the opening Las Vegas needs.


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