International entrepreneurs flock to Bay Area

March 31, 2011 7:47:15 PM PDT
A generation ago, it was advanced degree students who came to Silicon Valley to get their PhD's. They stayed and started up companies. Today, young entrepreneurs are flocking to the Bay Area in search of $1 million or more to finance their start-ups. They hail from such countries as Ireland, Luxembourg, the Czech Republic, Belgium and Egypt. The venture capitalists say they are seeing great ideas.

These entrepreneurs share a lot in common with Americans doing the same thing. They are enthusiastic about their applications and high-tech services. They are fearless as they try to pitch investors that their idea is the next big thing. Perhaps most important, if they succeed, they will create jobs both in the U.S. and in their native countries.

Sunnyvale's Plug and Play Tech Center hosted an International Expo Thursday where 34 companies from 15 countries practiced their funding pitches before real-life investors, including David Cowan of Bessemer Venture Partners and Max Shapiro with Keiretsu Forum, the largest angel investor network in the world. The start-ups had social media mobile applications, customer payment programs and product search services.

While one underlying goal might be to create jobs in the U.S., that is not realistic, according to Saeed Amidi, president of Plug and Play Tech Center and sponsor of the expo. He points out that start-ups cannot compete with the kind of premium pay and benefits that Google, game maker Zynga and Facebook can offer to get top engineering talent. A successful international start-up might expand its technical base at home, while hiring Americans to do sales and marketing.

David Cowan of Bessemer Venture Partners said he is very interested in funding international start-ups with a global plan. Selling to the world can generate far more revenue than one focused strictly on one country.

One country that is hoping to foster strong ties to Silicon Valley funders is Egypt, which is developing a tech center near Cairo called Techwadi. Amr Shady, CEO of T.A. Telecom, is an Egyptian who believes strongly that there is now an opportunity to help start-ups there that were hampered by the past government.

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