Plugandplaytechcenter’s Wu: “We want to give birth to the next big thing like dropbox”– #blogbus

On day two of our Blogger Bus Tour in Silicon Valley, we went to Sunnyvale, California in order to pay a visit to the Plugandplaytechcenter. This wasn’t my first time at this location for I had already visited the start-up accelerator more than two years ago (see that interview with one of their executive in residence, Howard Greenfield). I had found the visit so inspiring that I had decided to put it back on the agenda in 2012. We received a warm welcome from the staff and even the President of the centre, Canice Wu. Here is what I saw and heard based on the notes I took during that visit [post originally composed for my business blog]:

clip_image002Saeed Amidi wasn’t meant to become a business angel, let alone the founder of a start-up accelerator. As often, and especially in Silicon Valley, businesses are started with a particular objective, and then things shift and move to the next iteration of a business model. Amidi started with real estate as he was renting space to entrepreneurs. His love affair with start-ups and high tech started with “danger“, a smartphone (see the danger hiptop model on the right) company founded by Andy Rubin. As Amidi developed an interest in technology, he even decided to invest in danger, then PayPal and others. A new business was born.

[Canice Wu, President of the Plugandplaytechcenter]

In 2006, the US entrepreneur purchased the current Sunnyvale building, an “old Philips Semiconductor facility” according to Robin Ardeshir, Corporate development manager at the centre; yet, “old” is a very relative adjective in Silicon Valley! The building’s big, with its 17,000 m² and it can host up to 350 start-ups, from early two growth stages. On average, the start-ups employ five people. There are also “virtual members” who have no fixed space but can enjoy all of the services. This building is one of several buildings which are owned by the Plugandplaytechcenter company.

5 things that plug-in plaintext centre offers

The centre is a start-up accelerator, not an incubator, and they work with partners such as Y-combinator for instance: “our focus is not on competition but partnership with people like that” Plugandplaytechcenter President Canice Wu added. So here is what the centre does, in just five points:

  1. office space: that includes pretty much everything, from facilities, Internet access, conference rooms to data centre on premises. This is the legacy business of Saeed Amidi.
  2. events and networking: the centre puts together 120 events per annum, that is one every 3 days!
  3. access to capital: this is typically done via the so-called “deal flow sessions”. The centre receives 3000 resumes each year, 200 are pre-screened, 10 are selected and 4 to 5 go through the whole process until they eventually are offered to see the VCs. Out of these 4 or 5, there is a 50% follow-up rate, the centre representative told us. As one can see, this process is fairly strict; this is a means of ensuring quality and, eventually, success.
  4. access to large corporations: is also one of the main ingredients of success at the Plugandplaytechcenter. Large enterprises like IBM and others are present onsite even though some of them are not in high-tech at all. The automotive industry is particularly well represented.
  5. last but not least, mentorship is delivered thanks to the centres executive in residence, while former sea level execs either in between jobs or even retired. They might even join start-up for a while in order to monitor its takeoff.

the centre abroad

Towards the end of 2010, while on visit to the Egyptian version of Silicon Valley I had noticed a booth which bore the logo of the centre. Unfortunately, Plugandplaytechcenter was launched in Cairo for only 3 days, right before the Arab spring Canice Wu told us. Yet, there many other locations in which a Plugandplaytechcenter can be found such as Canada, Malaysia, Singapore and Russia

beyond Facebook

“This is definitely not the end of innovation” Canice Wu told us while we were there. “There is more than just Facebook going on here!” he said, “there are a lot of things going on in B2C and B2B alike”. “We even have a 15 year-old entrepreneur in the center” Wu added.

giving birth to the next big thing…

“We are looking for big things. We are ready to screw up a few, to give birth to the next big thing like dropbox” Wu declared in front of our bloggers. We don’t encourage failure, we encourage them to try, sometimes they fail but they manage the third time round! We can tell when we have found a good guy and then we encourage him” he concluded.

Howard Greenfield at the Plug and play tech center: even in these times of crisis “it’s never been so easy for a start-up to get started on a very low budget”

On June 2nd, 2010 we had the opportunity to meet with Howard Greenfield, president ofGO associates, a global consulting firm that helps companies bring technology to the market place. Howard Greenfield is also EIR (i.e. Executive In Residence) at the plug and play Tech center, a unique facility in Sunnyvale California, at the heart of Silicon Valley, which helps start-ups and big companies get together in order to grow their business.

Howard also worked in Paris for company which developed photo portals in the late 1990s. He also worked with Sun, Informix, Apple and did some consulting work for British Telecom. He is also a columnist and writes pieces for NAB and he is the co-author of a book about IPTV and Internet video which can be found here at Amazon. Currently, Howard is working on an article entitled “the secret life of start-ups” which will describe what goes on in the world of start-ups in the Silicon Valley.

We took this opportunity with our fellow journalists members of the French IT press tour in the Silicon Valley to ask Howard Greenfield a few questions about his feelings on entrepreneurship, the business outlook and how things are going on on a daily basis in the fast lane of high tech Californian business.

Are venture capitalist arrogant?

“Every day, there is a series of 5 to 6 sessions of start-ups in front of venture capitalists” Howard says,  “some of these VCs are very supportive. Some are very arrogant, dismissive, discouraging”. “The reason why VCs are sometimes getting arrogant” Howard adds is that “the financial picture is more squeezed and there is an erosion of the technology financial infrastructure at the moment in the Silicon Valley. There are also arrogant start-ups by the way, which are not respectful of venture capitalists either” Mr. Greenfield points out.

When asked to cite one of the craziest example is that he has witnessed, Howard mentions one particular start-up, which was trying to recreate an entire 3-D desktop browser interface in which every graphic would be 3-D so as to supersede the incumbents which are Microsoft, Google and Apple etc. “That was crazy but exciting (I mean ahead of its time). The response was: ‘are you guys real?'”. But in a way, Howard says, “if your innovative project is embraced upfront it means that you’re doing something wrong! Rejection proves that the technology is disruptive, it’s the foundation for innovation. Because when innovation is significant it is disruptive and it upsets people in the way that they usually do things.

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