Second life— Pittsburgh


While post-industrial towns such as Detroit languish in a ‘rust belt’, Pittsburgh is bucking the trend, teeing itself up as a major hi-tech hub and an alternative to California’s Silicon Valley. Monocle visits its thriving East Liberty neighbourhood.

Bakery Square project, East Liberty, India, Kenya, Kolkata, Luxembourg, Nairobi, Plug and Play Tech Center, Russia, Silicon Valley, Skolkovo, iHub

By all measures, the news coming out of Pittsburgh these days should be nothing but negative. This historic manufacturing town at the junction of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers was the ultimate “singularly-specialised economy” for more than a century – where an all-dominant steel industry sustained a vibrant working class, while fuelling the massive family fortunes of the Carnegies, Mellons and Fricks. Yet like car-dependent Detroit, Reagan-era globalisation devastated Pittsburgh’s steel sector, decimating blue-collar jobs and ultimately…

In emerging and established markets, new initiatives are springing up that are challenging the long-held dominance of California’s Silicon Valley.

  1. iHub, Nairobi, Kenya

Key players: Ushahidi, a non-profit tech company specialising in free and open sourc­e software.

Young blood: M-Farm brings rural Kenyan farmers into the tech world. Set up by Jamila Amin and Susan Eve, it delivers real-time information to farmers on market prices, weather alerts and agro-supplies via their mobile phones.

Challenges: Finding the cash and the space to house East Africa’s booming tech community.

Future plans: Launching the iHub research arm. “Big corporations, government and academia are starting to pay attention to iHub, says Jessica Colaco, iHub’s manager. “They’ve realised they are the people they need to interact with as they are the future business players key to Kenya and East Africa.”

  1. Kolkata, India

Key Players: Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), IBM, Wipro, Cognizant Technology Solutions (CTS).

Young blood: Small companies moving in such as the TCG Group.

Challenges: “We started late, which is a challenge,” admits Basudeb Banerjee, West Bengal’s IT secretary. “We don’t want to be the back office to Bangalore operations.” Transport is also an issue, meaning those living far from the hubs struggle to get to work each day.

Future Plans: Two Kolkata metro rail projects are on the cards.

  1. Skolkovo, Russia

Key players: The president of the Skolkovo Foundation charged with making the project a reality is prominent oligarch and industrialist Viktor Vekselberg. The Kremlin itself is a key backer and its clout has persuaded foreign companies such as Cisco, Intel, GE and Nokia-Siemens to join.

Young blood: Plenty of young Russian start-ups want to be involved.

Challenges: Avoiding Russia’s notorious corruption and persuading entrepreneurs that what is a top-down Kremlin project rather than an organic project can work.

Future plans: Starting actual construction.

  1. Luxembourg

Key players: Luxembourg serves as a European base for companies such as Skype, iTunes and Paypal, while RTL and SES Astra were founded here. The European Commission houses its data centre here. Young blood: Start-ups like Absolu Payment, offering simplified micro payment, and Seezam, an online safe for confidential information.

Challenges: Walking the line between very high security standards and the support of innovation and young potential.

Future plans: The national government recently started an initiative with Silicon Valley companies and PricewaterhouseCoopers Luxembourg, specialising in supporting start-ups.

  1. Greater Munich, Germany

Key players: The cluster around Munich includes EADS, E.ON, BMW and Siemens.

Young blood: Young start- ups like Vispiron Group and Xompu and scientific institutions like the Walter-Schottky Insitut for Nanotechnology have been founded in Bavaria recently. Eight out of 10 German technological innovations also originate in Bavaria.

Challenges: The area around Dresden is now a serious competitor to the Bavarian region. Silicon Saxony is one to watch.

Future plans: Governmental support and funding projects such as those of The Bavaria California Technology Center will make the region even more attractive to young firms and innovative ideas and concepts.


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