As you know, Winch 5 is on the search for the innovations coming from other places, with the hope of finding the most interesting things being done in in the world today. The idea came to me after I realized that Silicon Valley was losing momentum. Maybe it’s temporary, but it’s pretty evident.

The reason most often given for this is that today’s entrepreneurs are only interested in money. They’ve forgotten the other half of the region’s recipe for success: the desire to change the world. Let’s say, more realistically, the desire to change something.

LeWeb Learning from Silicon Valley and Africa
Xavier Niel and Jacques-Antoine Granjon at LeWeb’11/LeWEB11′s flickr

With the taste for hyperbole proper to PR and communications pros, Carmine Gallo gave a good speech at Le Web’11 in Paris earlier this month. Steve Jobs advised her to “put a dent in the universe,” she said. But not everyone is a Jobs, and there’s a middle road between trying to change the paths of planets and making money – do something useful – that many of us take.

Since my recent operation has me laid up, it was with regret that I couldn’t to make it to LeWeb’11 – almost as much as I regret not being able to travel right now. But I followed the debates via live-stream, and once more I was struck by the quality of the event, the presentations, speakers, subjects and the schedule created by Loïc Le Meur. It was really a pleasure to watch. The meeting between Europe and The US continues to stimulate

Despite all this, I was bothered by the award for the best startup. Among the three finalists, Heycrowd offers an application to encourage the members of your social network to vote on anything. The second, Babelverse, is a developing a platform for crowdsourced translations in any scenario. The third, Beeinto, is a way to share the apps we like, with a social-gaming layer to encourage us to do so.

The jury, made up of members of the European business community, nearly all from France, had – with good investor logic – chosen the last company, the one with the best economic possibilities. That’s what they were there for. They proved that they were not seduced by Silicon Valley’s siren’s song: the idea that entrepreneurs must “change the world.” Unfortunately, they defaulted to the most normal VC position: looking for maximum profit, as quickly as possible. They avoided risk.

Babelverse is a startup that could foster exchange. The language barrier is one of the most real (especially on the internet), one of the obstacles you hit most often, preventing us from communicating with others, sharing dreams and creations.

I’m sad that the last word came back to the logic of investors, but I also hope it helps to illustrate that, the more investors think about the bottom line, the more Silicon Valley thought masks itself in grand ideals we shouldn’t really take at face value.

What does it mean?

It would be dangerous to copy the Silicon Valley model as it loses momentum. It would also be a mistake to reject it entirely when  you realize that they themselves are not doing what they tell us to do.

On the other hand, there are many problems in the world that we can all fight, whether with monetary gain in mind or not. What counts is solving the problem. In any case, this is the lesson I learned on my trip to Africa, as everyone I interviewed said that innovation means resolving old problems with new solutions.


J’enquête, je suis et j’analyse les technologies de l’information et de la communication depuis la préhistoire (1994). Piqué par la curiosité et l’envie de comprendre ce que je sentais important,...