In Business In at the Start

Listen to In at the Start (12/08/2010)

I keep coming back to Silicon Valley California because is it such an instructive place to think about how business are created ... and maybe thrive.

For decades now a stream of startup companies have grown big and influential in the Valley, built around the silicon chip and the new economy created by computing.

Clustered round all the skills a startup business needs, the backers, advisors, lawyers, and venture capitalists, the little towns that make up most of the Valley are a magnet for the brightest minds from all over the world, drawn by instinct to a place where things happen.

Fascinating, therefore, to stumble on a building which is a microcosm of Silicon Valley as a whole.

It's run by Saeed Amidi, whose family fled from the Iranian revolution in the 1970s. He went to business college in the Valley, and was shocked when his father suggested that he should start working for a living.

The family had opened a Persian rug shop in the main street in the rich little city of Palo Alto, just down the road from Stanford University and the vast concentration of wealth controlled by the venture capitalists in Sand Hill Road.

The shop Medallion Rugs is still there; it's a good place to run into startup business people who have just made a fortune by floating their new companies and need floor coverings for the new house which is one of the things that newly wealthy people buy.

Saeed Amidi got on with starting his own businesses: real estate, investment, and a water bottling company.


Eventually he bought the nondescript premises further up the street that he was running his operations from: 165 University Avenue.

When I first saw it – something like 10 years ago – it still had a sticker on the front from a recent tenant: Google.

Before Google, it was the offices of the global computer peripheral specialists Logitech, originally from Switzerland, and famous still for their mice.

Successful startups don't stay very long at 165 University Avenue; the premises (laid out round a upper floor courtyard) are fine when you have only 20 employees, but get crowded if you grow to 60, which is what new business tend to do, fast.

After Google moved out came the internet payments company PayPal, and the mobile phone business Danger; both made their founders and backers totals of hundreds of millions a few years after they moved on from 165 University Avenue by selling themselves to bigger companies.

And the savvy landlord Saeed Amidi insisted on taking a small stake in PayPal along with the rent.

And now, with a record of canny investments behind, him, he is trying to capture what he calls the lucky kharma of 165 University Avenue in larger premises a few miles away.

Dozens of high tech start-ups run by dazzling young would be entrepreneurs from many parts of the world can rent cubicle space by the month at what he calls a Plug and Play Centre ... it's ready to start from day one.


Tenants like the intensity of being together with like-minded entrepreneurs. Plug and Play hosts a constant series of events which bring in prospective inventors who are always on the prowl for the next big thing in the Valley.

There are links with universities and executive mentors who can give advice and guidance to the new companies.

Its aim is to be the essence of Silicon Valley concentrated into several floors of tiny office space ... flexible so that as your business grows you can take over more of the cubicles these high tech businesses seem to thrive in.

The business ideas are striking at Plug and Play, but it remains to be seen whether it too can become a lucky building for entrepreneurs on the remarkable lines of 165 University Avenue.

Meanwhile Saeed Amidi is prowling the globe, seeking to set up more of these intense business incubators or accelerators in places such as Vancouver and Singapore, hoping that the luck of 165 University Avenue can rub off on other places far from Silicon Valley.

When it comes to staring a business, you can't neglect the influence of luck.

Listen to In at the Start (12/08/2010)

Previous Programmes

Watch Your Language - Peter Day joins a group of enthusiasts determined to improve the language of business.

Keep it Local - As pubs struggle to survive, Peter Day travels through villages in Yorkshire and Cumbria to talk to local activists.

Space - Peter Day asks what happens next on the USA's journey into space.

German Pencils - Peter Day asks Faber-Castell and Staedtler how they both stay sharp ...

Building BRICS - Peter Day finds out about the BRICS - Brazil, Russia, Indonesia and China

Over A Barrel - Peter Day contemplates the turmoil in the Middle East and fears it will affect the price of oil

Reconstructing Capitalism - Peter Day hears all about the challenges to the way capitalism works.

All at Sea - Peter Day hears all about sea transport.

China Dispossessed - Peter Day hears about some of the problems caused by China's rush for prosperity.

Back on the Road - Alan Mulally tells Peter Day how he changed the way Ford works and how it is now back in the business of selling cars.

Asia Bling! - Peter Day ponders how the rise of the Asian comsumer will change business.

Euro on the Rocks - Peter Day asks what is the future for the Euro?

Bitter Pills - Peter Day looks at changing face of drug development.

Operation Robot - would you allow a robot to operate on you? Peter Day looks at robot-assisted surgery.

Growing Pains - Peter Day asks, what is the main component of growth?

After the Crunch - Government funding and regional development: the view from Newcastle.

Chips off the Old Block - Computing in the UK, past, present and future.

Hidden Depths - Graham Hawkes, DeepFlight and exploring the oceans.

Sociability - How social technology makes new business models possible.

Are CEOs Up to the Job? - Two thirds aren't according to Xinfu's Steve Tappin. Peter Day investigates.

In at the Start - Saeed Amidi and Silicon Valley

Power Play - Is the 'smart grid' the start of something big?

Now Wash Your Hands Please - How a simple idea can transform lives in the developing world

Coming Soon - What can the experience of previous financial crises tell us about the current one?

Ticking Over - Can the Isle of Man rejuvenate the business of watchmaking?

Not Just Silicon - what can Silicon Valley teach us about innovation?

Press under Pressure - what lies ahead for the world of newspaper publishing?

Remembering CK Prahalad - in a world of change and multiple opportunities, how does a company keep up?

Rwanda Rising - building a clean safe state where business can flourish.

Life Cycles - building businesses around the idea of new kinds of bikes.

Who Sets Our Standards - the business and social benefits of standardisation.

Ready to wear - the ethical issues of the international clothing industry.

Doing It Wrong - what's wrong with the way business works?

New Age - the business of aging.

Project Alcatraz - rehabilitating offenders in Venezuela.

Selling Salvation - Peter Drucker and the Salvation Army.

Let Me Entertain You - office parties and away days.

Brazil's Sugar Rush - Brazil.

Small Wonder - microfinance.

Unlimited Company - organizational models.

Credit Crunch - cash and credit.

Student Startups - student entrepreneurs.

Media Mayhem - changes in the newspaper industry.

Squeaky Clean - branding.

Battery Power - Bolivia.

Women's Work - women in the city.

Hell For Leather - John Timpson and Timpson's Shoes.

Learning Curve - organisational culture.

Let's Start a Bank - banking.

Goodbye to Intel - Craig Barrett and Intel.

Location Location - So?

Iceland feels the Heat - the credit crunch in Iceland.

The Cisco Kid - Mike Lynch and John Chambers.

Grand Design - business schools.

Power Drive - the car industry.

All New - innovation.

Europe on the edge - What is this thing called "Europe"?

For more programmes visit the In Business programme archive.

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