© 2016

Black Swan Start-ups

Understanding the Rise of Successful Technology Business in Unlikely Places


About this book


This book explores startups that have thrived against the odds in places where startup success was deemed to be unlikely. Discussing a number of technology startups from around the world that have succeeded without state backing nor local venture and seed capital, Black Swan Start Ups provides unique insights into unsung models of success beyond the two dominant narratives of Asia’s ‘Tiger Economies’ and America’s Silicon Valley miracle. The author describes these stories of success as ‘black swan events’ and ascribes their achievements to the ability of entrepreneurs to leverage the ‘place surplus’ of their locations, while building connections to support networks outside their immediate geographies. Including case studies such as Skype in Estonia, SoundCloud in Germany and Bayt.Com in Dubai, this insightful book gives a holistic and wide-ranging view of how technology startups have, and can, succeed in less likely places. 


Entrepreneurs Start-ups International business Technology Location

Authors and affiliations

  1. 1.INSEAD Abu Dhabi CampusAbu DhabiUnited Arab Emirates

About the authors

Sami Mahroum is the Academic and Executive Director of INSEAD’s Innovation & Policy Initiative. Over the course of his career he has served as an advisor, researcher and analyst on innovation and innovation policy issues for governments, international organisations and in academia. Sami's writings have appeared in peer-reviewed journals as well as in the Financial Times, BusinessWeek and Project Syndicate.                        

Bibliographic information



“Black Swan Startups provides an insightful look into technology hubs all over the world. Understanding what they have in common and what makes them tick is critical to fostering innovation and economic growth. This is a valuable book for policy makers everywhere.” (Dr. Vivek Wadhwa, Duke University)

“This insightful book makes one clear point:  It truly is a global economy.  In making this point, it should change the impression of many that innovation only occurs in Silicon Valley and that innovation is one thing immune to global competition.   The picture that emerges from the marvelous case studies is clear and vibrant.” (Eric Hanushek, Paul and Jean Hanna Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University)

“This is an original take on an increasingly crowded literature, and Sami Mahroum helps to break the preconception that start-ups can only succeed in London or Silicon Valley. One contribution is to isolate some of the factors that small countries bring to bear on the success of entrepreneurs.” (Michael O’Sullivan, author of “Ireland and the Global Question”)

“Where innovation happens is changing and this very readable book draws on business case studies to show how this is happening in different countries and at different stages of business development. The book should be read by policy makers and students of innovation everywhere, but especially in developing countries.” (Professorial Fellow Fred Gault, United Nations University, UNU-MERIT)

“This is a provocative book that charts the rise of successful high value startups in regions most of which were formerly tied either to cheap labor or to natural resources.  Dr Mahroum presents a compelling case for how the center of gravity for high tech startups may be shifting. Well worth a careful read.” (Richard Hawkins, Professor, University of Calgary) 

“This book is an elegant and wise exploration of a phenomenon that is transforming the world, the rise of new technology in new hubs, outside the traditional industrial world. It is essential reading for those interested in how the new business environment will shape politics and economics.” (Harold James Professor of History and International Affairs Woodrow Wilson School Princeton University)

“Black Swan Startups proves that you don’t have to be in Silicon Valley to become a successful startup, nor do ecosystems need to copy Silicon Valley to bring forth innovation powerhouses. That is exactly what we are showcasing in the Netherlands with StartupDelta. Dr. Mahroum makes a clear case for startup founders in his book, championing innovation by navigating their way to growth locally and reaching out for leveraging sources globally, as critical success factor.” (Neelie Kroes, former Dutch Minister and EU Commissioner, the Netherlands Special Envoy for Startups)