By Richard Wallace
A robust silicon economy and innovation ecosystem is taking root in Europe, just as the global microelectronics industry is coming out of the recession.
Europe's emerging free-trade zone of innovation is being created by an elite community of leaders linked to silicon and its derivative technologies, including nanotechnology and smart energy technology.
Innovation and technology development thrive in an environment of creative intellectual energy that offers a networked economy, proximity to research institutions and universities, unique intellectual property development, a diverse base of high-tech talent, access to investment capital and infrastructure. This economic alchemy is no longer the exclusive preserve of Silicon Valley.
However, from a competitiveness perspective, historically, Europe has always struggled to hold its own in the global semiconductor business where it has long ranked behind the Americas, Japan and Asia Pacific in absolute terms of total market share.
But the SIA and WSTS booking numbers do not paint anything like a complete picture of what is happening across Europe's thriving global innovation, design and development food chain. Here, signs of a very Silicon Valley-like innovation ecosystem are beginning to emerge, reflecting deep ties to some of Europe's top engineering and technology universities, a new generation of entrepreneurs, along with a healthy infusion of venture capital funds and expertise.
Supported by rich subsidies and the political will to leave no innovation behind, selected technology-centric regions across Europe are enjoying something of a Silicon Renaissance - secured by a new economic foundation built on close, cooperative industry-university research and development; IP (intellectual property) development; native chip, system and product design; and increasingly, local or regional manufacturing.
Much less PC-centric and semiconductor centric than the U.S. or Asia markets, Europe's strength and economic growth in the tech sector has historically been rooted in manufacturing and systems design, especially small to medium-sized enterprises, or SMEs. Europe's market is noticeably less Fortune 500 oriented than its U.S. counterpart, populated instead, with legions of SMEs , especially in Germany where this strong class of manufactures is referred to as Mittelstand.
Last week at the DATE exhibition in Dresden, Germany we gathered some first-hand intelligence from some excellent sources in Germany, Europe, and around the world that points to a major new cycle of innovation and investment in Europe centered on a robust and thriving European microelectronics sector.
Dresden and the surrounding region is comprised of over 1,200 companies and 40,000 employees - and a brand new semiconductor foundry (GlobalFoundries) [See: PROFILES IN INNOVATION: Europe's Silicon State of Saxon] is just one oif the regions competing in the increasingly complex and global silicon economy. Munich and several other German regions, as well as French cities and regions like Grenoble, Nice and Sophia Antipolis - not to mention Ireland, Belgium, Italy - are all scrambling for position in the new, global silicon economy. [See related story: Make way for the silicon economy]
Include in this group the innovation ecosystem around Cambridge University, perhaps the oldest of Europe's Silicon Valley-like engines of entrepreneurship.