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Why the Next Silicon Valley Will Be in the Middle East

Venture capitalist Christopher Schroeder sees the Arab Spring giving rise to a new innovative center in Egypt and beyond

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During the Renaissance, Florence was a wellspring of novel thinking. By mid-20th century, Bell Labs in New Jersey was rolling in patents. And, today, California’s Silicon Valley is teeming with entrepreneurial spirit.

So, where will the next hub of invention be?

Christopher M. Schroeder, an internet entrepreneur and venture investor, predicts that with increased access to technology and the connectivity that follows there will be many centers of innovation springing up worldwide, in cities large and small. In his new book, Startup Rising, he makes a strong case for the Middle East, where a surprising number of young men and women are starting tech companies and where global corporations, such as Google, Yahoo and Cisco, are investing.

This story, at least for you, starts with you attending the “Celebration of Entrepreneurship” in Dubai in 2010. What was this event like?

I was at the “Celebration of Entrepreneurship” because [I am part] of this group of American CEOs and Arab CEOs who are really trying to get to know and understand each other. This was one of the first large gatherings of startups in the Arab world, from North Africa to Yemen. 

You get to this incredibly beautiful hotel in this spectacular city of Dubai that didn’t exist for all intents and purposes 15 years ago, and you would have felt as at home as if you were at any tech gathering or conference in Silicon Valley or anywhere else. It was a modern facility with people hustling and bustling, checking their mobile devices, connecting with each other, going from event to event. It was utterly familiar in what was a totally unfamiliar setting.

You argue that a new narrative is playing out in the Middle East. What is this new narrative, and how does it differ from the one that most Americans associate with the region?

I think when Americans think about the Middle East they are really thinking about political instability and sectarian violence. If you are old enough, that narrative might have started with the Iran Hostage circumstance, and certainly for all of us September 11 had a certain narrative.

But, there are other narratives going on. Where people have access to technology, they have access to communication and they have the ability to see how everyone else is living and doing things and can connect and collaborate. You have this capability of seeing opportunity and of seeing that you can make things happen, and it all can be done unbelievably affordably.

I think it is because we have such a single narrative in our minds about the region that sometimes it escapes our understanding. Of course, it is going to happen in the Middle East the way it has happened in India, Latin America, the way it has happened in Eastern Europe, the way it happens whenever anybody has access to technology.

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