Interview of JF Gauthier, Founder & CEO of Startup Genome by TechUkraine

The interview is part of a series of interviews with global tech professionals who drive the tech ecosystems of countries and cities, develop startup communities, and push cutting-edge innovations forward across the globe.
Tricia Whitlock
on September 07, 2020

We are happy to present our interview with a well-known international changemaker, Silicon Valley serial entrepreneur JF Gauthier – Founder & CEO of Startup Genome, the world’s leading voice in innovation ecosystem development, having advised more than 100 governments and private-public partnerships across 35 countries.

TechUkraine: When and how was the idea of the project created?

JF: The Startup Genome project was created in 2011 by Bjoern Lasse Herrmann, Max Marmer and Steve Blank to start quantifying the success factors of startups, understand what made them successful and do that enough in a data-driven approach for the first time.

Bjorn was leading the accelerator called “Blackbox,” which was trying to help foreign entrepreneurs come to Silicon Valley, to connect and learn, to be more successful. He thought: “we’re helping 10-20 startups at a time. How could we scale this up to help thousands?”

So that’s how it startedwith this idea of helping foreign entrepreneurs. And then, it became a tech startup, which I joined as the first exec. I took leadership of the global research and as we started selling—we ended up selling to Sage in April 2017—Bjoern and I sat down and thought: “We need to make the research useful to the governments. We need to help governments create a better policy so that they can help us, entrepreneurs, all over the world.” We had done the first ecosystem report in 2012, the second one in 2015, and we thought we need to continue and go deeper. We need to start advising the governments, researching what startup policies actually work, which one doesn’t. It was really about helping other ecosystems grow.

In Silicon Valley, we’re hurting because we’re too successful. There’s too much happening here: the rents are going up, the disparity between the rich and the poor has been increasing. The reason why I moved to San Francisco was the eclectic community colliding with the business leaders: the crazy community of artists, musicians, Burning Man people, hippies, etc. But they have been kicked out of SF by rent increases and almost all of them have moved to Oakland by now. San Francisco is much less eclectic than it used to be. It’s happening in Berlin also, and it’s happening all over the world in the most successful Tech ecosystems.

So, for all of us, the more cities globally are successful at building thriving startup ecosystems, the better it is. We need everybody to be able to participate in this new economy. As we succeed in having that kind of impact the migration of value geographically goes down. That’s really what we have seen happening—big migration of value from traditional industries to the new economy. And the problem is, traditional industries were dispersed while the new economy has been extremely concentrated in the top 10 ecosystems. So that migration of value is hurting most cities and “benefiting” only a few. The top 10 used to capture 85% of the exits and now it’s about 68% and it’s going down.

We work with like-minded individuals and organizations to change that concentration—to spread the wealth, to teach, and learn the methodology of how to build a community that is productive economically. Startup communities are really economic communities, so we are sharing knowledge about how to build those productive economic communities all over the world.

JF: What we’ve learned is that the actions in policymaking strategy are very different based on your economic context, the political context, your strengths, and the stage of your startup ecosystem. And that’s been the problem in enacting policies: Governments all over the world pay attention to what London did, what Singapore did, what Tel Aviv did. They look at what they did three years ago, five years ago, when they were already top-10 startup ecosystems. Nobody is able to go back to 1994, 1995 in Tel Aviv, in Singapore, and ask: “What did you do then, when you were like us when you had only 200 startups? What failed, what succeeded?”

That’s what we did to kickstart this in 2015: I picked up the phone, and I called a top leader of Enterprise Singapore, and I said: “What did you guys do in 1994?” They said: “We copied the Yozma program [Israeli national funding program].” “How did it go?” He said—I paraphrase: “It failed to have the impact it had in Israel because we first needed to change the culture focused on young people getting a good and stable paying job, of aversion to risk. We needed to build an entrepreneurial culture and community.”

Read the entire interview here

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