Silicon Valley is the best-known example of an innovation ecosystem with the world’s greatest concentration of entrepreneurs and investors. The establishment of Stanford University in 1891 was probably the first ‘seed’ planted in the Silicon Valley forest. The University saw itself as part of the development of the West and its staff encouraged faculty and students to start their own businesses.

In the late 1930s, two electrical engineering graduates named Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard started an electronics business out of a garage in Pala Alto, planting a seed that would grow into a giant technology tree and spawn many other businesses.

William Shockley, a Nobel-prize winning physicist at Stanford, was another ‘sower of seeds’. He was a brilliant but erratic scientist and his behaviour encouraged eight of his key researchers left to pursue their interest in silicon-based semiconductors. They went on to establish 65 new enterprises in 20 years, each in turn seeding generations of new ventures. One of the self-styled ‘treacherous eight’ went on to found a venture capital firm that invested in Intel and Apple.

The history of Silicon Valley shows that each business can grow and seed successive generations of businesses. It emphasises the importance of key institutions such as Stanford and key people – not just the entrepreneurs but also the people who encourage, mentor or even irritate others so much that they leave to do their own thing, plant their own seeds, grow their own businesses.