The end of “Silicon Whatever” syndrome

As the pandemic wears on, it’s only reasonable that people continue to rethink the value of “place.” If you can work from anywhere, how much do regional hubs of activity — proximity to other humans — truly matter? Some of that thinking comes into play in this Rise of the Rest take on the “Silicon Whatever” naming convention.

When startups are very young they are often still searching for the perfectly succinct way to explain what the business does, who needs it, why anyone should care, and how they make money. So the oft-elusive “elevator pitch” is instead replaced with a shorthand: “we are the Uber for X.” “We are the Facebook for Y.” “We are the Google of Gen Z.” And for years, cities across the country who were building their emerging tech hubs have done the same thing: I have visited or otherwise engaged Silicon Prairie, Silicon Harbor, Silicon Hills, Silicon Peach, Silicon Forest and Silicon Holler, just to name a few. When these startup hubs were still nascent, they used the “Silicon X” shorthand to signify that “there is tech and innovation happening here.” But most startups who use the “we are the X for Y” shorthand do not achieve breakout success. Often, that’s because they are presenting something that has already been commoditized as a still-new innovation or they are trying to replicate a platform for a much more niche or verticalized market. The companies that break out and scale instead find their own narrative to succinctly explain their value prop in their own words. They can stand on their own merits to explain “Why me? Why now? Who cares?”

What will set these cities and towns apart instead? The things that make them unique.

And for those of you wondering, “Silicon Forest” was a fairly fast follower on the whole “Silicon Whatever” trend. The term “Silicon Valley” was first coined in 1971, but didn’t come into widespread use until the early 1980s. “Silicon Forest” was coined in 1981 in a Japanese press release and Lattice Semiconductor trademarked the term in 1984.

For more, read 2021: The Great Acceleration of the Rise of the Rest & the End of “Silicon X Syndrome.” (Part I).