Grafting American attitudes on European open source

Entrepreneurship is easy to over-think. I have known many entrepreneurs in my years as a reporter and it's really an art, an instinct. One which starts by putting yourself into the mind of the customer, and seeing things from their point of view.

ATDC current location map at Georgia Tech
Big Money Matt Asay is fairly dismissive of European open source.

It lacks the killer instinct, he writes. The only way to graft that on is to bring the European to America. He cites Fabrizio Capobianco, CEO of Funambol, as an example.

He has a point, as my friend Roberto Galoppini demonstrated recently at OSIMWorld in Berlin.

Roberto held a workshop on bringing open source into the business model during the show, which was well attended. And he had all his facts in order, complete with attractive charts.

There's your problem. His blog post on the talk read like an academic paper. Not that there's anything wrong with that. But...

Entrepreneurs often mine the academy for technical ideas. In practice (as Nick Negroponte has shown) they also chew these guys up and spit them out like sunflower seeds.

Entrepreneurship is easy to over-think. I have known many entrepreneurs in my years as a reporter and it's really an art, an instinct. One which starts by putting yourself into the mind of the customer, and seeing things from their point of view.

Studying entrepreneurs won't make you Steve Jobs any more than studying art will make you Picasso. The greats just have "it," and we've never been able to define what it is. We just know it when we see it.

What is the best way to find "it?" Where I live in Georgia, the best model is the Advanced Technology Development Center at Georgia Tech. (In the map above, notice that it's across a busy freeway from the main campus.)

The ATDC has been around for a quarter century now. Its creation was one of the first tech stories I ever wrote.

Physically it's just a collection of small office suites. In fact it's a shark tank, with academics from Tech and elsewhere acting as bait, and a network of venture capitalists as chum. (Maybe that's where Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus got his big idea.)

The vast majority of entrepreneurs who go into the ATDC fail. But some, like Earthlink, succeed. Once they leave campus the ground is still rocky. Most Atlanta start-ups blow up or get bought. But this is the best model for launching them I've seen.

So if I could make a single recommendation to Galoppini and others trying to build open source in Europe, this would be it.

Put one of these hothouses near a great academic institution. Invite entrepreneurs to speak, invite venture capitalists for drinks, and accept that most ideas which germinate there will be bogus, that most entrepreneurs who try their luck there will fail.

But some won't. And it is these few, these busy few, on which you build a new culture.

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