The San Francisco Bay Area, a term that has increasingly become synonymous with Silicon Valley and revolves around San Francisco as its epicenter, isn’t only home to the beautiful Golden Gate Bridge, the Painted Ladies, cable cars, and sunbathing sea lions. The Bay Area is also and maybe most of all a place of remarkable diversity and endless energy, reflected in its brimming event calendar.
To better understand the Bay Area’s unique vibe and its events, one must first think about what makes this area such a special place and how it became a global hub of innovation and multiculturalism. In short, young energetic people come here from all over the world for the chance to come up with the next big thing. They envision developing the next killer app and are on the hunt for venture capital funding that will allow them to realize their ideas.
As Steve Blank puts it in A Visitor’s Guide to Silicon Valley,”Silicon Valley is more of a state of mind than a physical location.” As a center of innovation, the Bay Area is about the people and their interactions with each other. While living here for the past year, I’ve discovered that finding locals who have lived here for more than five years, let alone grew up here, turns out to be quite a challenge.
Why is that? Perhaps it’s because San Francisco is a city that attracts people who are constantly on the move, eager to learn and to make connections and to find like-minded fellow thinkers. And the event culture of this area is steeped in these ideals.
To give you an idea of what’s going on in the Bay Area, I picked a few examples, which in my opinion reflect the culture here and draw contrasts with that in Switzerland. These events cover a wide range of topics, but as swissnex is the science and technology outpost for Switzerland and promotes science, art, technology, and innovation, I’ll point out a few examples in these arenas.
Science is cool
Unlike anywhere else, the coolness of science is celebrated here. Being nerdy is cool. A good example is the program SF Nerd Night. With the slogan “Be there and be square,” the organizers develop evenings of smart scientific lectures around topics that you wouldn’t normally see explained to laypeople. This month’s upcoming Nerd Nite, for instance, is titled “Fish Speciation, Molyjam, and Stellar Evolution.”
The location of these events is as unique as the content of the lectures. The sessions take place at the Rickshaw Stop, a former TV studio that’s been converted into a concert venue and club that offers a full bar and food service. As the Nerd Nite organizers put it, it becomes like Discovery Channel with beer.
I was skeptical at first. As I grew up and went to school in Switzerland, I’m used to making a rather strict separation between education and fun, and thinking of science as something very serious. Science is supposed to be explained to you in a classroom, not something to be discussed in a nightclub over beer and cocktails, or so I thought.
But after living here for a while and attending events like this, I changed my mind. The information you get from such lectures might sometimes be a little unconventional, but it’s not necessarily less scientifically rigorous and certainly no less fascinating. As long as you learn, the end justifies the means, don’t you think?
Another good example of how the concept of “Science is cool, being nerdy is attractive” is Night Life at the California Academy of Science. Every Thursday evening, the Academy, beautifully situated in the famous Golden Gate Park, stays open until 10 p.m. Each week features a different live band or DJ and a unique theme, from salsa dancing to sustainable seafood. Later, they dim the lights, remove the bar tables, and serve cocktails. The museum turns into a club, where people mingle around the aquariums, listen to lectures, and visit the planetarium, all while socializing with friends or even being on a date.
Let’s build a community and organize an event: Meetup
An interesting thing to take a look at is also the nature of how events are organized. Often, events are organized “by the people, for the people” and not necessarily by a university or other official organization. Event organization has shifted from a top-down to a bottom-up approach. Meetup.com has helped boost this trend.
Launched in 2001, the platform is a way for people with the same interests to interact. With 11.1 million members and 340,000 monthly meetups, it’s the world’s largest network of local groups. Meetup‘s official mission is to revitalize local community and help people around the world to self-organize.
You connect virtually, but unlike most other social networks, the ultimate goal of Meetup groups is to organize actual events and meet members in person. Meetup themes vary from Knit, Purl and Swirl to San Francisco Foodies to Women Who Code (SF). While Meetup.com is big all over the world, it’s little surprise that the Silicon Valley get-togethers often center on tech, startups, and innovation.
The audience and what they get out of an event
Networking is critical throughout Silicon Valley. I would even go so far as to say that event attendees care more about the people they will be able to meet than the event itself. Networking is how you meet business partners, investors, competitors, and friends. An entire blog post could be dedicated just to the culture of networking. Writer Victoria Barret dishes a successful investor’s secrets in Forbes. And Rishi Chowdhury underlines the importance of networking, claiming that your net worth is only as good as your network.
This emphasis on networking is also reflected in the way people behave during an event. The audience is generally very curious and interactive and much less hesitant to ask questions than a typical Swiss audience. Everyone in Silicon Valley really seems to take the rule that no question is a bad question to heart. Scheduled question-and-answer sessions are an essential component of every program.
This attitude may be because Americans are more culturally open and at ease when speaking in public. I’ve become convinced that people also see events as opportunities to speak up, hoping that many people will approach them during the reception portion of an event.
As you can see, tracking the pulse of Silicon Valley’s Event Culture brings out many facets. It’s the mix of people, their motivations for being here, and a host of other intangibles, all of which play prominent roles in driving the wheels of innovation in this fast-moving center of the technology universe.
- San Francisco events (SF Weekly)
- Networking conferences & events in Silicon Valley
- swissnex San Francisco events
- Cultural anthropologist Churck Darrah on the culture of Silicon Valley