What’s in a name? Lightbank’s Lee gives two cents on ‘Silicon Prairie’
What's in a name? Would the Silicon Prairie by any other name smell as innovative?
That question — or a less wannabe-Shakespearian rendition thereof — is one we frequently encounter in our coverage of the entrepreneurial landscape in the heart of the Midwest. Some people welcome use of the phrase "Silicon Prairie" with open arms. Others just can't stand the term. Through the magic of Google Alerts and Twitter filters, the team at Silicon Prairie News has become a reliable watchdog for mentions — favorable or otherwise — of "the Silicon Prairie."
Our ears perked up and tails subsequently drooped over one such utterance last summer: in a July interview with CNBC (embedded below), Paul Lee, a partner at Chicago-based investment firm Lightbank, expressed what we'll call, um, a strong distaste for the term "Silicon Prairie."
"I want to tell you guys," Lee (left) said during the interview, "how much I hate the term Silicon Prairie."
Of course, during that same segment Lee went on to express a belief that the Midwest is "a great and fertile ground to find unbelievable entrepreneurs." And he showed his dedication to finding the cream of the Midwestern crop when he came to Big Omaha earlier this month.
In addition to visiting with a dozen startups at Big Omaha, Lee kindly took time out of his schedule to talk with Silicon Prairie News about the region's startups and entrepreneurs. And, before the interview was said and done, we asked Lee about the phrase that makes up two-thirds of our organization's name.
He gave an explanation of "Silicon Prairie" that the term's haters and lovers alike should consider.
"I don't think you get successful by emulating another ecosystem, right?" Lee said. "And so this notion of Silicon as it relates to the connotation of 'We’re going to replicate Silicon Valley in a different area' — I think each area’s different.
He continued, explaining the importance of regions embracing and leveraging their competitive advantages
"So, you know, in Silicon Valley, the engineering talent is second to none, and so you see the focus in terms of product, in terms of optimization and iteration. In Chicago, I think our core skill-set is around business acumen and execution. And so as we think about the startup economy out there, that's where we've been wanting to contribute. Here, it might be totally different, and I'm getting my bearings as it relates to the community (in Omaha).
"But I think what's really important is for an ecosystem to embrace what they're good at and focus on that as a core strength of the community rather than emulating and trying to, like, be a second-rate engineering community."
For Lee's complete interview with CNBC, see the video below.