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Founders and innovators

Riding the wave of innovation

Why is the Silicon Valley ecosystem unique and what are investors looking for when investing in a startup? These are just some of the questions Danish startups are asking when looking to the tech-hub in California. We talked with some of the people who know Silicon Valley the best, and asked them to provide a group of Danish founders and innovators with valuable insights.

“Innovation is like a surfer’s wave. Do you want to be the surfer riding the wave or do you want to keep sailing away from the wave, in constant fear of when the wave will catch you?” Bill O’ Connor asks the 19 founders and innovators from Denmark. He has a message for them – “the wave will always catch you.”

In early February, Innovation Centre Denmark Silicon Valley, in collaboration with it-forum, invited a group of exciting Danish startups and SME’s to explore the key building blocks of Silicon Valley and scout for future opportunities for their businesses during a week-long program. Bill O’ Connor, who is the founder of The Innovation Agency in Silicon Valley gives the Danish entrepreneurs and CEO’s insights about Silicon Valley. His comparison of Innovation with a “wave” is figurative:

“The likelihood of crashing the “wave” when trying to surf it, is on the other hand also enormous,” he explains. However, Silicon Valley has managed. Why? As Bill O’ Connor describes it, it is because Silicon Valley is where seemingly insane ideas, which would be shot down and ridiculed anywhere else in the world are given a chance and cheered on - this isn’t a “No, but” approach to ideas - it is a “Yes, and” approach.

This fosters an open culture where people share knowledge with each other without fear of social repercussions. “It is all about the possibilities. Openness is essential to innovation here [in Silicon Valley],” he states, and stipulates that this is why Silicon Valley has managed to ride one innovation wave after another for over half a century.

Photo: Pharma Score

Network like your company’s life depends on it (because it does)

Another key reason that Silicon Valley is truly unique is the networking culture. It builds on the famous “Pay-it Forward” mindset that permeates the culture. The “Pay-it-forward” mindset is not about getting anything in return, but about maintaining an atmosphere of helping each other out. As we witnessed when the group of Danish companies participated in the conference Startup Grind 2020, this mindset challenges the at times shy Danish demeanor - everybody in Silicon Valley is eager to help, you just have to ask for it. Something we Danes are not always the best at. 

Additionally, a common misconception about the Silicon Valley ecosystem is that fundraising is a streamlined and straightforward process. The truth is that it is a long and messy exercise where you have to tell your story to hundreds of people before you meet a potential investor. As we learned from a panel of investors at Startup Grind: On the long, hard road to closing that next round, you are not fundraising, you are friendraising. Your network - not the product - is what will make the difference in the end.

“One of my take-aways is that the level of ambition is just so much higher here in Silicon Valley. This is something we can really learn from in Denmark. We simply need to think bigger.”
Klaus Mogensen CEO, Better Banners

Risk-seeking capital - the fuel on the fire

With the right mindset and network comes scaling, and Jordan Wahbeh, Managing Partner in a large Angel investor network told the Danish companies what Silicon Valley business angels actually look for when evaluating a business or a product: The founders’ skills, the market fit of the product and the potential to be a billion dollar business. Talking to Jordan, you get a look inside how high Silicon Valley investors expect entrepreneurs to shoot when they invest in companies. In Silicon Valley, scaling a company is about taking over the world.

Watch the video below to hear him elaborate.

Bringing home experience and insights

Klaus Mogensen, CEO of Better Banners participated in the Founders and Innovators Summit, and after a week with speakers, pitch events, and Startup Grind he takes home great inspiration: “One of my take-aways is that the level of ambition is just so much higher here in Silicon Valley. This is something we can really learn from in Denmark. We simply need to think bigger,” he says.
Another participant highlighted how the trip had given him a new Silicon Valley approach to doing business in Denmark:

“Innovation Centre Denmark in Silicon Valley has helped me find my inner entrepreneur and inspired me to not only found my own company but also helped me get insights in terms of scaling,” explains Varan Pathmanathan, founder and CEO of MakeImpact.

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Klaus Morgensen, CEO, Better Banners

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