Learning from remote communities

So let’s go back to Iceland. Iceland has around 320,000 people, 100,000 square kilometres – basically a lot of space and not many people. Not totally unlike Australia. A kiwi entrepreneur, Matt Yallop, is over in Iceland right now, he has set himself a tough assignment, living in Iceland using a co-working space for seven weeks and he is there because he wants to know how other small remote countries can learn from Iceland.

He has come up with the unusual example of Miss Iceland who won Miss Universe three times and says the reason Iceland has won this is because they are organised, they enter, they spot and nurture talent and they have a support system around them. It is not just the individuals; they have a whole support system around them. It’s a funny analogy but he applies it to business as well.

The Four Ts driving innovation

There are four drivers – what I call the four Ts – going on in the world today for innovation.

The first T is TALENT, the rise of education, greater expectations, many more women in the workforce – and that’s one big T going on.

The second T is TECHNOLOGY – everyone has talked about that.

The third is TRAVEL and if we wanted to go to Silicon Valley we can all travel there for about $1,400 return.

They are the first three Ts and I asked hundreds of entrepreneurs and asked ‘why have you been successful?’ and they said things like persistence and hard work but I thought that’s not very good it doesn’t begin with T give me something else! So they came up with TENACITY. It’s no point having all that talent; you have to do something with it.

Home ground advantage

So if you are an entrepreneur and want to start a business, let’s ask that question again where should you start that business, knowing the four Ts? Well the answer according to a Danish study of about 10,000 businesses found that the most successful of those 10,000 businesses were businesses started in the hometown or home community of their founder. Why? Because they have trusts, networks, reputation and they know where to find things. They had the home community advantage.

Having a network of people around you is an advantage. Paul Graham – cofounder of Y Combinator – wrote a now famous piece called ‘How to be Silicon Valley’ and posed the question of how could you create a mini Silicon Valley in Buffalo, NY – perhaps an unlikely place. Initially he thought that it could be done with 500 people but concluded that maybe just 30 hand picked people would be enough to create a significant innovation hub.

People are key but you need more than just people, you need a community, a network. You might need something like WREN – the Women’s Rural Entrepreneurial Network in New Hampshire or the Entrepreneurial Exchange in Scotland. You need those types of networks or groups as well as individuals.

Today, we all talk a lot about technology and doing business in an online world, but do we know what’s going on around the corner? So instead of just talking about cutting edge technology you might be better of talking to the guy next door mowing the lawn, thinking creatively might mean going to the local art gallery and meeting people there, and going to the market might actually mean going to the local market and connecting with people there.

I have three friends who live in a country area of the Sunshine Coast. One develops software for a global automotive company, another develops software for the financial markets in New York and London and another runs a website recruiting crews for yachts. All three of those people are doing amazing things but they are hidden away and they don’t know each other – they are hidden treasures. But luckily I knew them and invited them all out to lunch and they see the value of talking to each other and learning from each other. In business you need complimentary skills – finance, marketing, sales, operations and so on. We all know that nobody’s perfect but a team can be. So we have to get people talking and get into networks to tap into skills.

Celebrating success

So back to Iceland to finish up, this is the island to the south of Iceland. Can you guess whose house this is? It’s Björk. Björk is talented, she has a good team, she uses technology to put her music out to the world, she has sold millions of albums, and she certainly has tenacity. Who gave her this house? The people of Iceland gave her this house. This was a gift to say thank you for putting Iceland on the map. Thank you for getting us noticed. So the moral here is don‘t just have great entrepreneurs, celebrate them, celebrate the success of these entrepreneurs and support them – and even, if you want to, give them a free house. Thank you.

Full TEDx presentation can be viewed on Youtube.

Update: latest online search suggests the island may not actually belong to Bjork after all, pity I think she should have it!