EU legislators scout Silicon Valley, foster transatlantic innovation

Neumann Society hosted a high-level delegation from the European Parliament last Thursday (July 23, 2015) at Neumann House in Redwood City, CA. The delegation participated in a roundtable discussion with our guest experts on transatlantic innovation and explored the topics of startup support and shared European values in Silicon Valley.

The EP delegation from the Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee (IMCO) ended their 3-day visit in Silicon Valley on Thursday evening. Neumann Society was their final stop on a whirlwind tour of meetings with American councils on digital customer protection, visits to companies like Twitter, Facebook, Google, Cisco, PayPal, and a visit to Stanford University. The highlight of the trip for many members of the delegation was lunch with Condoleezza Rice. MEPs visiting Neumann House were:

Róza Thun Und Hohenstein (EPP, Group of the European People’s Party)

Róza Thun Und Hohenstein (EPP, Group of the European People’s Party)


Lambert Van Nistelrooij (EPP, Group of the European People’s Party)

Lambert Van Nistelrooij (EPP, Group of the European People’s Party)


Catherine Stihler (S&D, Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats)

Catherine Stihler (S&D, Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats)


Dita Charanzova (ALDE, Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe)

Dita Charanzova (ALDE, Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe)

This prestigious group of EP members was accompanied by several political advisors and administrative staff. The delegation reached out to Neumann Society about a month before their trip to California as they had heard about the organization’s strong commitment to supporting transatlantic innovation. The EU now has an increased interest in Silicon Valley, looking for ways to support innovation within Europe, and it wanted to see how Neumann Society, its transatlantic community and local European allies can give them perspective on the European-affiliated innovation ecosystem functioning in Silicon Valley. Neumann Society invited numerous local European organizations to offer perspective to the delegation on how European companies can make it in Silicon Valley and how these organizations can mentor them to achieve success. We had roundtable experts from the Czech ICT Incubator, Austrian Innovation Center, Silicon Vikings, Silicon Valley Real Ventures, and the Honorary Consuls of the Czech and Slovak Republics.

delegation from the European Parliament

delegation from the European Parliament

delegation from the European Parliament

During the introduction of Neumann Society by President George Tilesch, the members of the delegation were very excited about the objectives and achievements of the fledgling organization, its dedicated flagship programs to support a growing set of local European innovation success stories and helping the next generation of innovators succeed back in Europe and here in the United States.

The inaugural Neumann Connect event (net neutrality) was particularly relevant to their interest in digital consumer protection. The discussion started with some ballpark questions on transatlantic innovation that the EP delegation had submitted:

  • What drives EU startups to establish their business in Silicon Valley?
  • What are the advantages and the disadvantages of the US vs. EU markets for start-ups?
  • What challenges do EU startups face in the Silicon Valley?
  • How could the EU level the playing field for the European digital technology industry to improve the framework conditions for global trade for high tech products and services?

All the speakers seemed to agree that European startups definitely need mentors here, whether Americans or other Europeans who have been living here for a long period of time. Richard Horning, lawyer, Chairman of Silicon Vikings, and Honorary Consul to Estonia, explained how the key to achieve success here is finding the right person or connection. People normally can’t get straight to stakeholders in companies they want to do business with, so finding someone who can make the right introductions is essential. He explained that the system really is based on trading favors and paying forward, so that eventually the favors are being returned. Within a network, most people really support one another.

The roundtable also discussed how accelerators in the Bay Area (there are about 80 of them, according to Richard Pivnicka, lawyer and Honorary Consul of the Czech Republic) also learn from the successes and failures of the European companies that come here. The guest speakers have seen many companies come here and establish a presence in the US, then either keep that presence or return to Europe. Roman Horacek, Co-Founder of Czech ICT Incubator in Silicon Valley, highlighted that he had seen about 1/3 of the companies coming from Czech Republic establish a presence in the Bay Area go back to Europe and stay local. The learning experience they gathered here helped them tremendously in their success back home. However, selling the idea of moving to the US is a hard one, because companies often see this as losing jobs to the US – though in the long term, the success that one department achieves in the US can eventually grow the whole company.

Barbara Pivnicka, Honorary Consul of Slovakia, explained the effect they call the “Valley Pivot”: startups arrive here and realize how incredibly different the US market is from anything they have experienced in the EU, so they decide to change their business plans. She stated that this was very common, and the phenomenon helps startups adopt a successful business model.

Many of the guests agreed that Europeans (especially the ones from non-Anglo-Saxon countries) often lack the soft skills necessary to effectively sell one’s business. Mario Herger from the Austrian Innovation Center told the delegation the story of how his son, enrolled at an American school, is learning at the age of 8 to share and practically sell his favorite toy to the others (called Sharing Day). Everybody seemed to agree that the European school system doesn’t put a large emphasis on soft skills like this, but they are absolutely necessary to sell a great business idea here.

On the other hand, all speakers seemed to agree that us Europeans have much to contribute, have good “hard skills” and share a set of differentiating values that may help us connect and join forces in Silicon Valley – some sort of a common ground. This shared sense of identity becomes much more pronounced here in the US compared to being back in Europe, and shared values like this fuel transatlantic collaboration among others. All participants agreed that more is needed, and it is crucial to find ways to create more value for Europe, building on the expertise of Silicon Valley innovation experts.

The delegation was thrilled to hear all these different perspectives and appreciated the different takeaways they had from this discussion. During the reception following the roundtable, many concrete plans were discussed to formalize and structure this new dialogue. The next months will be about taking these plans to the next level and using the network around Neumann Society to aggregate the expertise accumulated and channel it to the EU institutions. This insight and future communication mechanisms, in addition to what they gathered after meeting with so many large companies based in Silicon Valley and now making an impact in Europe, will definitely help the EP shape new digital legislation in a more pre-emptive manner.

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