The catalyst that turned the valley into what it is today is one that nobody should want: World War II. In the 1940s, the best and brightest engineers were tasked with inventing technologies that can help the United States win the war. Stanford was a hub for tech talents and over the decades transformed the valley into an ecosystem for countless electronic and software companies.
So what keeps the rest of the world from catching up to Silicon Valley? From the entrepreneur perspective: Not enough mentors, talents and far too few risk-taking investors in early-stage startups.
Outside of Silicon Valley, there are far too few startup founders who serve as role models. It's hard to walk down University Avenue in Palo Alto, for example, without literally bumping into a handful of successful founders or early employees who've enjoyed the thrills, rewards and learning that comes with building a great company.
Startup founders, regardless of age, can't possibly know enough to turn even a great product idea into a great company. Nobody told this story better than Steve Jobs himself, who at about age 13 simply looked up Bill Hewlett's home number in the phone book and reportedly got back scores of hours of mentoring -- and more -- with no compensation or equity... just by asking for wisdom from a highly qualified mentor.
In Walter Isaacson's biography, Jobs said, "and he picked up the phone, and I talked to him and I asked him if he'd give me some spare parts for something I was building....and he did. But in addition to that, he gave me something way more important, he gave me a job that summer ... at Hewlett-Packard."
There aren't enough Bill Hewlett's in the world to provide wise coaching, guidance and experience, whether for compensation or not.
Great startup mentors are generous, treasured resources in Silicon Valley. In emerging markets, the most successful startup founders are usually too busy building their own companies and don't have the time or inclination to "pay it forward" to the next generation. The world needs more of these people to offer guidance and ideas.
Engineering talent isn't enough
There are thousands of skilled, ambitious engineers in Russia, Bulgaria and Latin America. But every successful engineer or "hacker" needs a marketeer or "hustler" as a co-founder—someone focused on the customer with as much talent and fervor as the engineer focuses on building a great product. Sadly, in most foreign markets there just isn't enough marketing talent to find customers -- the lifeblood of any startup.