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Tech tip for Boston from Silicon Valley: Let meritocracy rule

The Sept. 27 opinion pieces regarding the lack of tech emphasis are on target (“Chamber of commerce needs to open up,” Op-ed). After working in real estate and for the City of Boston for 25 years, I spent 16 years in Silicon Valley with the San Jose Redevelopment Agency. There I was exposed to the most important difference between the two regions — that of meritocracy.

Boston, both geographically and culturally, has been caught somewhere between Europe’s traditionalism and the Valley’s entrepreneurism. Few business leaders in Silicon Valley care where you come from; they care about your ideas and accomplishments.

Stanford and Fred Terman gave a tremendous boost to the Valley, but MIT has recently closed the gap, especially in life sciences. To compete with Silicon Valley, Boston-area universities need to accelerate business applications of research.

In addition to university entrepreneurism, other elements needed for success include a vibrant venture capital and angel investor community, a willingness to accept failure, and the ability to welcome outsiders. Boston has made great strides in these areas, but more is needed.

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The Valley’s major public interest groups are not chambers of commerce, but rather two groups founded by tech companies: the Leadership Group and Joint Venture Silicon Valley. The Leadership Group initially put forward traditional business interests, but for the past 20 years much of its effort has been focused on affordable housing, education, and transportation. Boston may need to do the same.

John Weis
Newbury

The writer, a lecturer at Boston University, is formerly assistant executive director of the San Jose Redevelopment Agency and director of the Boston Neighborhood Development Agency.