Silicon Valley, home to Fortune 500 companies and thousands of startups whose work has changed millions of lives across the planet, has long stood as a leader in innovation and technology. For years, however, cities outside of the U.S. have surfaced in an ambitious attempt to dethrone the Valley as the dream destination for entrepreneurs and founders.
In a 2017 Global Startup Ecosystem Report, the tech Mecca took the top spot in the funding and market reach categories. While the Valley still holds the crown in key areas that help grow and sustain a vibrant startup ecosystem, other regional hubs have emerged to compete and showcase their resources, talent and thriving startup culture. With tech infrastructure developments, pro-startup governments and friendlier cost-of-living expenses, the career landscape has expanded significantly towards today’s hottest international cities.
Recently, I spoke with three successful entrepreneurs about their fast-growing and robust startup communities.
Below are the important insights I gathered from our conversations, including the biggest challenges and rewards they shared for anyone exploring employment opportunities outside of their home country.
Originally known as China’s financial center, Shanghai is the nation’s largest startup hub. With innovation as its top strategic goal, Shanghai now hosts around 70,000 startups, countless accelerators and incubators, major tech events and networking parties. Rob Eberenz, managing director of CORE Investment Partners and Core 360, described Shanghai as one of the most interesting ecosystems outside of the U.S.
“The Shanghai marketplace and demographic is certainly the most diverse in China, with every province and ethnicity of China represented, as well as a balanced expat community representing most countries and cultures from around the globe,” Eberenz says.
Challenges for young foreign professionals and recent graduates include the country’s new “points-based” visa system, high level Chinese language requirements and comparatively low wages. However, Eberenz thinks that international graduates can still find full-time roles in Shanghai through networking and gaining professional experience on the ground, which can be effectively accomplished through an extended internship. In spite of the obstacles that could deter a successful career in a foreign city, Eberenz strongly encourages pursuing jobs overseas, whether temporarily or permanently.
“The biggest reward from work experiences abroad is the global perspective you ultimately achieve from the experience. This perspective is the net sum of the positive and, sometimes, negative experiences you find yourself in during your time abroad, such as gaining humility from struggling with daily tasks you take for granted at home, seeing the world from a different culture's point of view, and solving problems in other languages with colleagues from completely different backgrounds,” Eberenz shares.
Related: 6 Tips on How to Find a Job in China
Argentine founder Matías Recchia disrupted traditional business models in his home country through IguanaFix, Latin America’s leading on demand platform for home improvement services. In 2016, he raised $16 million dollars to fuel his company’s expansion, making his "Uber for the home" startup one of Latin America’s most prominent success stories.
The country proves to rely heavily on human capital and, for years, has risen to become a major source for tech talent. Recchia believes that the level of engineering education in Argentina is high and that schools across the nation offer world-class programming and technology courses.
With the country recently passing a law to fuel entrepreneurial economic growth, aspiring business owners can now launch their companies with easier procedures and lower costs. Also, Recchia says that, “apart from paying a fraction of the price for rent compared to other tech neighborhoods, Latin American communities are very friendly and laid back.”
For English-speaking individuals, Recchia shares that, at the start, new expats and graduates filling customer-facing roles will definitely find the language barrier difficult. He recommends looking for “companies that serve international markets, while also taking Spanish language classes.” He says that being proficient in the local language makes a vast difference. “Knowing how to speak in the native tongue pushes you to become resourceful. You are forced to figure stuff out on your own,” Recchia adds.
More than tech education, the startup mentality in Latin American cities like Buenos Aires has changed much over time. According to Recchia, the workforce used to be more cash-oriented.
“With successful companies like Mercado Libre and Globant in the news, people have become increasingly familiar with the value of working for startups in Argentina. Today, more people are into stock options and there’s now an appetite for risk,” he explains.
Tel Aviv, with easy access to seasoned angel investors, mentors and venture capital firms, has evolved into a hotbed for innovation and tech startups. One Israeli success story comes from the founders of team management tool DaPulse. Headquartered in Tel Aviv, the SaaS tool now services 10,000 teams spread across 125 countries around the world.
I spoke with Eran Zinman, currently the Chief Technology Officer and one of the brilliant minds behind DaPulse, about why he thinks Tel Aviv is now widely known as Silicon Wadi or the Startup Nation.
“Israel is a relatively new country and exists in a challenging region. As a result, since its establishment, the country has always had to come up with creative solutions to its problems. For example, Israel is one of leading countries in agrotech, which is inspired by Israeli desert geography. To grow their own food and irrigate the land, Israelis were forced to come up with creative solutions,” Zinman explains.
He also says that the emerging startup community is tight knit and that there is strong access to capital.
Zinman notes that Israeli culture strongly supports failure. In his opinion, this mentality has caused the country’s startup ecosystem to thrive. “People are always encouraged to pursue their ideas and it is widely understood that often, you have to fail a few times before you succeed. This gives people the freedom to try and try again.”
He also says that while language is not a barrier (with Israeli startups focusing on external markets from the beginning), cost of living is rather high. Zinman recommends that there are definitely ways around this, such as living with roommates at first and buying food from local markets.
Over 30 percent of the team at DaPulse is international, and he strongly believes this to be a huge asset. For career seekers who want to explore options outside of the U.S., Zinman says that, “seeing how other countries work and what challenges them is a worthy reward. It is a great skill to be able to acclimate successfully and you learn so much about yourself and the world in the process.”