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TechTrip US: entrepreneurship, innovation and privacy

Europe is home to some of the most advanced tech research centers in the world. So why is the US tech sector so much stronger? Philippe and Siegert share their insights from the latest Voka TechTrip. What are the main differences between doing business in the US or the EU? Are American tech companies really worried about European privacy regulations? And what makes the US such a fertile ground for innovative startups? To answer these and more questions, MultiMinds founders Siegert and Philippe recently went on a trip to Austin (Texas) and Silicon Valley, together with some 50 other Flemish entrepreneurs.

Since 2016, Flanders’ Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Voka) has been organizing TechTrips to the world’s leading technological and digital regions. Over the course of a week, Flemish entrepreneurs – the majority active in tech, IT or health – are given the opportunity to connect with officers and business leaders, gain valuable insights into a region’s unique business ecosystem, and get feedback on their own approach as well.

“Given the circumstances, it was amazing that the TechTrip could take place at all,” says Siegert. “It showed a clear willingness on both sides of the Atlantic to meet in person. For many US companies we visited, it was the first time in nearly two years that they had welcomed such a big group of foreign visitors.”

Stimulating innovation

So what insights did our very own founding fathers take home from their trip? “What struck me was how innovation and entrepreneurship are actively supported in the US,” says Philippe. “For one thing, startups and government agencies often occupy the same co-working spaces. This significantly lowers the threshold for innovative businesses to pitch their services.

“Secondly, many big American companies and venture capitalists are actively ‘hunting’ for startups to acquire to remain innovative. Over the years, this approach has turned into a well-oiled machine, complete with standardized fill-in forms. In the EU, startups experience lots of difficulties to get investments. You almost have to prove you’re already profitable before you get any money.”

EU invents, US applies

As a result of this approach, the US tech sector clearly has the upper hand when it comes to production and scaleability. But the EU certainly has the know-how. Siegert: “Even the biggest semiconductor companies in the US admit that they rely on technology that has been invented in Europe, and in Flanders’ very own imec research center.

“But Europe is also very risk averse. In the US, failure is almost encouraged. It shows that you had the guts to try something, and it’s generally assumed that failure comes with a lot of lessons learned. To boost innovation in our region, we need to focus on partnerships between tech companies. I’m convinced that we can accomplish great things together.”

Data privacy regulation as an asset

So, are US tech companies worried at all about European privacy regulation? “They certainly are,” says Siegert. “Many Big Tech companies are revising their business model as a result of what’s happening in Europe. Another consequence is that user privacy initiatives like Tim Berners-Lee’s web decentralization project Solid might come to fruition sooner than expected.”

“These companies understand that the world will not continue to accept the way personal data has been handled in the last few decades,” adds Philippe. “All signs are pointing towards data privacy becoming even more important in the near future. So while GDPR might seem like a handicap right now, it might be our greatest strength going forward. So smart businesses need to look for a partner that understands and endorses those values.”