e27 takes a new look at Cyberjaya, once Malaysia’s grand project for its version of Silicon Valley that, along with neighboring new capital Putrajaya, would turn the country into a glittering futuristic tech hub for the 21st century. Despite initial promise and some moderate success stories since its beginnings in 1997, Cyberjaya in 2010 is a faint shadow of the original vision. Sure it had to weather the late-90s Asian Financial Crisis and local political changes, but were there other reasons for its underperformance? Did Malaysian PM Dr. Mahathir Mohamed really scare off potential investors with anti-foreigner rhetoric? Was the IT infrastructure not up to the required standard? Were subsequent leaders not as committed to the project? Now that Hong Kong and Singapore have pretty much entrenched themselves as the region’s IT hubs, could Cyberjaya ever rise again to challenge them?
Projects like Cyberjaya got me thinking about other attempts around the world to create the next Silicon Valley. For a few years there around a decade ago, they were all the rage. The Japanese Government even fingered Okinawa as a regional tech showpiece in the early 00s, yet no evidence of the plan appears to exist nowadays on the internet or the island itself. Even when built, these IT enclaves still seemed to lack the elements that made Silicon Valley a cauldron of new ideas and entrepreneurship. Cyber-visions require more than just wired infrastructure, attractive tax laws and ribbon cutting ceremonies — there is a cultural element. To bother moving all the way to a new city or country, IT visionaries want freedom, lifestyle and enough like-minded people to network with. Unless governments are prepared to give them what they need to flourish into idea and economic engine rooms, new Silicon Valleys will continue to regress into average office parks, call centers, or broken wikipedia links.