What makes Silicon Valley different?

As Facebook comes under tough scrutiny lately and Mark Zuckerberg has to apologise to the world, Silicon Valley and technology companies are making the headlines again. The road to stardom is not smooth but it requires more checks and balances and ultimate accountability as the Silicon Valley behemoths clearly can influence users in surreptitious ways. 

Artificial intelligence is what many companies in the valley like Facebook, Google and Microsoft are chasing frantically. "AI is the brains of the future and data is the new oxygen", Stanford University professor Dr. Burton Lee .

So what makes Silicon Valley different and why is everyone racing to learn about innovation from them?

  • They build and grow companies to a global level faster – and more efficiently – than anywhere else in the world
  • They create more new jobs and industries – faster – than anywhere globally
  • They look for and reward disruptive ideas, technologies, teams and intellectual property that can be scaled globally
  • They do world class research and technology development
  • They design, build and manufacture great technology products and services

Silicon Valley is where the world learns first many (but not all) new approaches to innovation!

Dubai: the world's smartest city by 2021?

This city-state, famous for its shimmering towers, endless shopping malls and outlandish architectural projects, is built on oil money. Dubai is unique. Created to reflect the aspirations of the super-rich, its prosperity is evident in the scale of the ambitious developments that define its appeal, including the dramatic Burj Khalifa and Palm Island archipelagos.

But as fossil fuels continue to fall out of favour and oil prices falter, Dubai has lost some of its economic brio, sparking a slowdown in its previously unstoppable building boom and casting doubt over the emirate’s future direction.

Building a world-class tech economy by decree

Dubai’s rulers believe they have stumbled on a solution, reimagining the region as a vibrant startup economy that will help to sustain Dubai in a post-oil era. It’s a bold venture. California’s Silicon Valley is doubtless the inspiration for the move, but can Dubai’s monarchs hope to replicate the organic ground-up growth of the tech ecosystem in San Francisco by imposing a top-down infrastructure?

Enter Dubai Future Accelerators (DFA), a government-led hub for entrepreneurs that is designed to incubate state innovation. The dozen or so government organisations – including big-hitters like Emirates Airlines – have the opportunity to pick startups with the potential to deliver additional commercial advantages. In return, the startups get access to the tools they need to grow, including free office space, accommodation and government-sponsored training.

Hyperloop One is an early success story but it’s not an outlier; around three-quarters of the 65 startups that have completed the program have signed up to future DFA collaboration. It’s a model that differs from most US programs, but early indicators show positive signs of growth, with a 45 percent increase in equity-funded private startups and startup investment passing $1 billion in the UAE for 2016.

Creating a startup-friendly climate

The government has also set up a ‘free zone’ – the Dubai Multi Commodities Center (DMCC) - in which foreign-owned companies can operate without the added burden of taxes and fees. Google-partner AstroLabs is a tech hub for entrepreneurs located in the Jumeirah Lakes Towers, offering some of the most sought-after workspace in the world and hosting 100 companies representing dozens of countries – many of whom wouldn’t have the funds to prosper outside the DMCC.

Dubai’s regulatory regime also has to be carefully negotiated by startups. Because the country’s attitude to debt is less liberal than it is in the US, companies offering venture capital (VC) are few and far between. Which means that home-grown unicorns are thin on the ground, although Uber-inspired transportation startup Careem has an estimated value of $1 billion, having benefited from funding from German automotive giant Daimler, among others.

The Dubai approach to business is less formal and more relationship-led. Organisations such as AstroLabs and DFA, as well as global startup network 1776 are not only providing workspaces and training opportunities but also the opportunity to make valuable business connections that will enable them to unlock the resources that can fund growth.  

Lofty ambition with high stakes to match

Dubai’s startup culture is still its infancy – especially compared to Silicon Valley – and with a much shallower pool of available investment capital. But, thanks to the government’s efforts, there is an emerging creative sector in a city that’s nurturing talent and moving in the right direction. Dubai is also beginning to attract the angel investors and VCs that are essential to sustaining startup momentum.

The city also has some ambitious goals, such as having the first blockchain-powered administration in the world and becoming the world’s smartest city by 2021, not to mention the creation of a Martian colony within the next century.

How achievable these projects are remains to be seen; meanwhile, improvements to Dubai's infrastructure continue apace. Scheduled for completion in 2021, Dubai Design District (D3) will form the epicentre of Dubai's creative community and act as a hub for artists, architects and designers, while technology, robotics and AI have already found a home at a new digital innovation centre in Dubai Internet City.

Dubai’s leisure and shopping facilities will leave you breathless

Dubai offers plenty of opportunities to enjoy downtime. Situated next door to the Burj Khalifa is Burj Khalifa is the famous Dubai Mall. Created on a grand scale, the mall is home to more than 1,200 shops as well as 150 restaurants, an ice rink, aquarium and underwater zoo.

If you want a flavour of old Dubai, it’s worth taking a trip along the Creek – the saltwater estuary that was an essential part of the city’s former economic strengths: fishing and pearl diving. The Dubai Museum is worth a visit, as are the winding souks where you can find gold, spices and textiles. A ride across the water on a traditional abra is a must.

Even a day at the beach turns into a five-star experience in Dubai. Kite Beach is the perfect location for watersports skills, but if you want to stay in terra firma, you could cycle, skate or enjoy a game of volleyball. Alfresco cafes and restaurants line the beachfront and offer an outstanding view of the glorious Burj Al Arab.

How to be successful in China according to Jack Ma

The rise of China's power in the last decade has been astonishing. China clearly wants to be seen as the new champion of globalization and replace the U.S. in the leadership role for the new global economy. The country remains one of our most popular destinations for MBAs and one of the most difficult to understand to the western world. It is crucial that its role as a superpower in the world is now universally acknowledged and every business school should make a China global immersion integral to their MBA course.

At the recent Fortune 500 Global Forum in Guangzhou, Alibaba’s Jack Ma had 3 pieces of advice for companies that want to do business in China:

Show some respect. “Respect the culture, respect the market, respect the consumers.”

Send great entrepreneurs to lead your business in China, not professional managers. “Those people make the boss happy, they do not make the customers happy.”

Have patience. “Starbucks was here for 18 years. First nine were horrible; last nine were great.”

Silicon Valley – Tech Unlimited

A slender, horseshoe-shaped slice of real estate in the southern San Francisco Bay Area, Silicon Valley is less a geographical location and more a state of mind. So-called because of its prominence in the evolution of global tech companies such as Apple, Facebook and Google, the area has become synonymous with technological innovation, inspiring the likes of design guru Steve Jobs and Tesla’s Elon Musk to change the course of history, while elevating Palo Alto’s Stanford University to its status as one of the world’s leading research institutions.

The climate of change

Rewind to the 1960s and Silicon Valley was more agricultural than urban, a place where fruit trees outnumbered tech businesses by quite a margin. As it became the go-to location for microchip developers like Intel, the intellectual and economic climate started to shift and the Valley began to attract wave upon wave of ambitious young entrepreneurs looking for a fresh way to do business.

This focus on innovation helped to create a thriving tech cluster that boosted the network of workers, suppliers and networks needed to support the rapid growth of this highly specialised sector and added considerable value and cachet to San Francisco as the preferred location for ambitious start-ups, as well as more established companies from further afield (Europe and China, for instance) looking to sprinkle a little Silicon Valley gold dust on their operations. Today, although some manufacturing remains, the Valley functions primarily as an ‘incubator’, a forum for hot-housing ideas that lead the world.

Disrupting the status quo

Silicon Valley continues to be the centre of tech-based innovation; the cutting-edge digital developments that enabled start-ups like Google and Amazon to rapidly grow into global brands are providing a new generation of companies with fresh opportunities to challenge the status quo. Far from slowing in scope and ambition, advancements in technology are causing ripples across formerly traditional businesses. A revolution in infrastructure – and in artificial intelligence (AI) – is opening up industries such as logistics, food and hospitality to completely new ways of operating.

So-called ‘disruptors’ like Airbnb and Uber have rocked the foundations of established operators by taking a radical approach to connecting customers with services – something that’s made possible only through technologies that enable a more fluid approach to traditional transactions. This notion of a ‘sharing economy’ doesn’t only allow big players to tap into new markets, it can also benefit businesses and individuals that wouldn’t otherwise be able to access funding. Tech company Kiva – headquartered in San Francisco - sources crowd-funded micro-loans that can change the lives of people in impoverished areas of the world.

A hub for entrepreneurs

The entrepreneurial model that’s gained traction in Silicon Valley has become a blueprint for businesses across the world. This agile approach enables companies to adapt their products and services to new markets and to anticipate changes rather than to react to developments as and when they occur. This process of continuous improvement designed to reduce the risk of stagnation is a start-up mentality that’s embraced by even the largest businesses as part of a drive to stay relevant.

Interestingly, many Silicon Valley companies share a belief in the value of establishing and nurturing an entrepreneurial culture that attracts like-minded employees and benefits the business and encourages disruption. Businesses that specialise in innovative funding opportunities are a product of this kind of entrepreneurial thinking. Early-stage venture capital fund Pear has helped to seed tech start-ups like Dropbox and Zoosk, while Silicon Valley Bank tailors financial services to innovators. Start-ups that need a place to work can get the support they need at co-working facility and corporate incubator RocketSpace.

Immerse yourself in the cool San Fran counter-culture

San Francisco is one of America’s most beguiling cities. Its liberal culture and remarkable bay setting makes it an unmissable destination. Victorian buildings sit comfortably amid striking contemporary architecture, while cable cars share the road with futuristic Teslas.

There’s lots to see and do in and around the city. The Golden Gate Bridge is San Francisco’s most striking landmark. You can walk or drive across it, but the best views of the bridge can be had from the genteel residential area known as Nob Hill. Fisherman’s Wharf offers all the charm of a historic waterfront setting – check out the shops and eateries at Pier 39. It’s also a great starting point for a sightseeing cruise.

Art lovers should head straight for the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) that reopened in 2016 following a programme of renovation, though the elegant Palace of Fine Arts is also worth a visit – if only to soak up the tranquillity of its lagoon setting.

 

Shenzhen and the rise of CaliChina

Over the last few decades, Shenzhen has experienced an economic transformation that is nothing short of remarkable. In the 1980s, the area was largely agricultural, a landscape of rice paddies punctuated by rural villages. Today, around 12 million people reside here and it’s estimated that circa 90% of the world’s electronics are made here – Apple contractor Foxconn’s vast plant alone employs upwards of half-a-million people. No city, ever, has demonstrated such rapid expansion.

The rise of ‘CaliChina’
Shenzhen is home to tens of thousands of factories and has become the go-to source for the design and manufacture of all things electronic – as typified by the city’s vast Huaqiangbei market. Savvy commentators are dubbing it the ‘new Silicon Valley’, with influential Forbes contributor Salvatore Babones coining a new phrase – ‘CaliChina’ - to communicate the powerful synergy of this trans-Pacific makers’ hub. The ideas might still be generated in California but this is where they take physical form. The draw of Shenzhen’s electronics ecosystem has seen the city blossom into a natural destination for giant high-tech companies and hungry startups alike, all hoping to benefit from the proliferation of electronics expertise at every stage of the commercial process. Tech newbies like smartphone company Huawei have seen their businesses grow rapidly, while established organisations such as Airbus are diversifying their operations to take advantage of the opportunities for growth and innovation here. 


The Shanzai approach
In many ways, Shenzhen can align its rapid rise with the exponential growth of the mobile phone. Back in the early noughties, Nokia and Motorola were marketing phones that each retailed at hundreds of dollars. By contrast, Shenzhen’s manufacturers were able to produce similar models at vastly cheaper prices. Shenzhen now has a network of tens of thousands of factories – known as ‘shanzhai’ – that can mimic the design of popular electronics and manufacture them to a high standard. But business has moved on from simple copycat tech: eight of the top ten smartphone brands in the country — three out of the top six worldwide — are Chinese. Quality is high and because these businesses are agile, innovative and responsive they can quickly react to feedback or to market dynamics.

Incubating the perfect startup ecosystem
Shenzhen’s strong supplier base and manufacturing reputation aren’t the only attractions for tech startups, though. The government is providing infrastructure support and there’s also an established network of crowdfunding platforms that helps to keep startup funds flowing. The Shenzhen Stock Exchange has a NASDAQ-style tech exchange that is designed to provide a startup exit opportunity. China is constantly looking to attract fresh grassroots innovation by creating workshops, offering cheap loans and sponsoring tech fairs. Accelerators, like Hax and Shenzhen Open Innovation Lab support innovators from around the world to consider Shenzhen as the obvious choice for their design and manufacturing base. And why not, when you can access all the tech talent and fabrication know-how you need to take an idea from proof-of-concept to prototype in a few short days? It’s the perfect business model for Kickstarters everywhere.


Experience Shenzhen’s cultural – as well as commercial - heritage
As one of China’s wealthiest cities – and an easy trip from neighbouring Hong Kong - Shenzhen is a vibrant metropolis, attracting a wide mix of visitors. The city now boasts a ‘maker space’, a design district, and an extraordinary offshoot of London’s V&A museum that occupies part of the ground floor of the new £146-million Sea World Culture and Arts Center in the city’s Shekou district. There are theme parks and speciality markets, as well as lots of shopping experiences.
About an hour-and-a-half from Shenzhen is the Guanlan printmaking base. This 300-year-old village features quirky black-and-white houses that contain the workshops and galleries of printmaking artists from China and beyond. The Dapeng Fortress is a historic walled town to the east of Shenzhen that was prominent in the Opium Wars of the 19th century. Expect elegant mansions and ornate temples from the Ming and Qing dynasties.

 

Cambodia and Vietnam – the rising Asian tigers

Cambodia and Vietnam are emerging as new economic powerhouses. These once war-torn countries are sloughing off the chains of their embattled history and gaining ground as two of the fastest-growing economies in Asia, attracting impressive inward investment and opening up fresh global markets.

Vietnam is strategically located on the South China Sea stretching North to China, with Cambodia situated to the west along the Gulf of Thailand; both share land borders with each other and with neighbouring countries on the peninsula, including Laos. Manufacturing dominates the economic output in both regions, thanks to the preferential access it offers investors to large and developed markets via the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Free Trade Area (AFTA).

Cambodia – ‘Factory Asia’

Cambodia’s garment manufacturing expertise puts it at the heart of an established global supply chain, with exports to the EU accounting for 40% of its output, closely followed by the Unites States at 30%. Major multinationals like Gap, Marks & Spencer and Uniqlo have long-standing relationships with contract manufacturers here.

Concerted efforts by the Cambodian government in the 1990s helped to boost its manufacturing profile and promote overseas investment. Today, the garment industry still accounts for a significant percentage of Cambodia’s GDP and the majority of its exports.

This so-called ‘Factory Asia’ economic growth model relies on low-cost labour to provide a competitive export proposition and has lifted millions of people out of poverty across Asia. But it’s not the only contributor to Cambodia’s growth. Services, finance, transport and communications are all driving investment and adding value to the country’s economy. Innovative ventures are also taking the plunge in Cambodia, like Phnom Penh-based brewer Kingdom Breweries.

Vietnam – forging a startup ecosystem

Vietnam is among the fastest-growing nations in the world, due mainly to its annual double-digit rises in manufacturing and exports. It ranks in eighth place in the World Bank’s ‘Ease of Doing Business’ rankings 2018 for the East Asia and Pacific region, and occupies fifth place among its fellow ASEAN countries. But it’s also becoming a magnet for savvy startups, largely as a result of Ho Chi Minh City’s young, vibrant population and entrepreneur community.

The tourism sector is gaining traction and generating many new opportunities for further growth, too. Startup accelerator Mekong Innovative Startup Tourism (MIST) is providing much-needed mentorship to tourism companies across the region, with tourism tech leading the way.

Ho Chi Minh is investing in a Vietnamese version of Silicon Valley. The Saigon Silicon City Centre is attracting investment from a group of high-tech sectors including micro-electronics, IT, telecoms, engineering, biotech and energy, and will host workshops, commission research projects and incubate startups. Tech startup hubs like Dreamplex are also emerging in the capital, while the coastal city of Da Nang is one of only 33 cities worldwide to receive IBM’s ‘Smarter Cities Challenge’ grant to improve infrastructure.

Amazing cultural experiences await

Exploring the rise of Cambodia and Vietnam in the global economy is fascinating stuff but a journey into the region’s cultural history will pay dividends, too.

Phnom Penh’s glorious Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda (Wat Preah Keo Morokat) are itinerary essentials. The Palace serves as the King’s residence, with the pagoda acting as a venue for royal ceremonies and home to a priceless collection of Buddhist and other historical objects.

A Mekong Delta tour offers a glimpse of rural Vietnam, with its tranquil canals, paddy fields and breathtaking landscapes – a sharp contrast to the buzz of the city streets

Berlin – Europe’s burgeoning tech hub

Berlin is undergoing a quiet revolution. A city that was once scarred by a physical and political schism has cast off its grim cold-war legacy and is being transformed into a buzzing European capital by an avalanche of investment and the influx of talented tech-preneurs from across the world.

Earlier this year, a Savills study awarded the city its global top spot for ‘buzz and wellness’ – a metric that takes account of social, cultural and environmental factors such as entertainment and commuting times. 

Technology is in Berlin’s DNA

Berlin’s technology focus is nothing new. A hundred years ago, the city was something of a prototype Silicon Valley, dubbed ‘Elektropolis’ thanks to innovations pioneered by homegrown electronics manufacturers Siemens and AEG.

Flip the dial to 2017 and Berlin’s thirst for cutting-edge tech is now driving the advancement of the fastest-growing startup eco-system in the world, attracting impressive venture capital inflows and providing exciting investment opportunities for entrepreneurs.

Berlin’s success is due, in part, to its economic agility. Relatively low living costs, coupled with affordable office and studio spaces and a relatively bohemian culture has made it an attractive prospect for digital freelancers and progressive startups everywhere. The explosion of an ambitious, relatively young professional population has, in turn, created a vibrant community of artists and entrepreneurs that is sparking a new wave of innovation in Germany’s uber-cool capital.

Tech startups are leading the way but others are hot on their heels

It’s estimated that a startup business is being founded in Berlin every twenty minutes, with inward investment out-performing traditional business hubs, including London. This traffic is being given additional impetus by Brexit, as foreign investors look for fresh and fertile business locations on the European mainland.

International tech giants like Google and Facebook are at the vanguard of investment; Google already funds the Factory Berlin tech hub and is set to open a campus in Kreuzberg later this year. Locally grown companies like incubator Rocket Internet, music streaming service SoundCloud, food delivery firm Delivery Hero and Auto1, an online used car marketplace, are also making headlines with record levels of market capitalisation.

Berlin’s social and cultural highlights

A visit to Berlin is a must for anyone who’s interested in the anatomy of a successful startup but there’s plenty to enjoy away from the boardroom.

Berlin’s built environment speaks of its political history, as well as being informed by the input of modern architects such as Mies van der Rohe, Le Corbusier and Walter Gropius. No visit to the German capital is complete without a walk along what’s left of the Berlin Wall, more than twenty-seven years after the reunification of Germany.

A trip to the Holocaust Memorial, located just south of the Brandenburg gate, is also time well spent. The memorial pays tribute to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust; the five-acre site features 2,711 concrete ‘stelae’, arranged in a grid pattern on a sloping field in a poignant reminder of lives lost.

 

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How to Make the Most of Your Next Innovation Tour

Whether you are an MBA joining your class on your next international trek or an entrepreneur looking for the optimal environment to start a business – innovation tours can be extremely valuable in providing insight and knowledge into the world’s business and innovation ecosystems.

Our innovation immersions will involve planned visits to a series of notables companies and academic lectures, pitch events, guided tours and conferences with panel discussions. The problem is, these innovation ecosystems are extremely complex and their structure are not easy to grasp. To get at their true essence, it is paramount to go beyond appearances and delve deep into these complex environments by constantly observing, questioning and listening.

Visible activities such as start-up incubators and angel investor meetings merely provide detail to the outer layer and more obvious aspects of the ecosystem. To gain vital insight deep into the core of these ecosystem and understand the real drivers of entrepreneurship, a focus on the subtle elements is needed.

For example, an innovation tour to South Korea would benefit greatly from a visit to a military camp to observe young South Koreans undergoing military exercises. With military service being mandatory in South Korea, our innovation programme will give precious insight to the culture and mindsets of the people there.

Entrepreneurs alone do not reflect the whole entrepreneurship ecosystem. Researchers, investors, non-profits and government officials are just a few of the actors that help make up the network within the ecosystem. Focusing on different actors will help you understand the different motives for innovation in the ecosystem. Look for the conflict and collaboration between these actors and revel in it, not only will it give you a broader view of the whole landscape but will also directly reveal their entrepreneurship culture.

Optimizing the value and knowledge you gain from your innovation immersions requires a degree of susceptibility and inquisitiveness from your part. Innovation tours are not a place for re-active learning – you must be pro-active. As Einstein once said: “the important thing is to not stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing”. So be curious and be engaged. The responsibility lies on to you have the desire to unearth information from all angles which will be crucial to your quest in understanding these complex entrepreneurship and innovation ecosystems.

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Time to Lift the Iron Curtain

Thrilling and exciting, yet mysterious and impenetrable, Russia has long been a place of enormous economic opportunities despite the ongoing political debates and financial risks. The sixth largest economy in the world with 99% literacy rate, 200 different ethnicities, 30% of world’s natural resources and growing investment portfolio, Russia attracts further attention to two major cities: Moscow – the capital, and Saint Petersburg – the unofficial cultural capital.
 
Moscow contributes 20% of state GNP and hosts most of financial, retail and trade headquarters. Around 300 banks and 7,000 MNCs and foreign representatives position themselves in Moscow. Due to its strategic location, an abundance of qualified cheap labor and R&D innovation facilities, Moscow and its region has become an important industrial complex for aviation such as Aeroflot and energy plants including Gazprom and Lukoil.

Another reason to visit Moscow is the Russian alternative to Silicon Valley – Skolkovo Cluster – a massive accelerator with 23,000 sqm of lab, factory and office space. Moscow is a city booming with energy and waiting to be explored.
 
Saint Petersburg, known as the northern capital, is an important industrial and transport hub for the entire country. It hosts some of the biggest state corporations such as Gazprom Oil as well as world famous power turbines manufactories such as LMZ. As a transport corridor, the city connects Baltic and Nordic Europe to Russia as well as all the vital Arctic production to country center. Mother City to Russian president and the major political party, the city is full of lobbyists that influence essential public policy.
 
Due to the concentration of political power and interest, St. Petersburg hosts infamous International Economic Forum every June where lobbyists and businesses from all over the world come together to learn more about Russian trade and investment opportunities.

One of Russia's trademarks all over the world is vodka, and St. Petersburg's distilleries offer brands ranging from the oldest one, LIVIZ, to the young success, the Russian Standard Vodka exported to over 70 countries.
 

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Moscow City

Singapore - The World's First Smart and  Easiest City to do do Business in!

As inconspicuous as it may seem, Singapore has made a mark in the global economy. The “little red dot” as it is affectionately called is home to a diverse ethnic, religious and cultural population of approximately 5.6 million people. Located in the heart of Southeast Asia, it has access to a market of 3 billion people.

Singapore has billed itself to become a ‘Smart Nation’ for its adoption of technology and has been ranked by the World Bank to be the easiest country to do business in and as one of the “most open” and “most pro-business” in the world.
Its low-tax rates are also a benefit to global investors while it is also recognized as the fastest changing digital economy, being a prime tech innovation hub. 

Legacy Ventures recently organised a global immersion for a group of MBAs focussed on leveraging digital for business transformations and supply chain logistics.  

The immersion incorporated visits and discussions with some of the leading organizations in Singapore such as Amazon Web Services; a subsidiary of Amazon.com to get an insight into cloud computing and Global Logistics Properties (GLP); one of the leading providers of modern logistics and facilities operating over a huge market. In addition, they visited the headquarters of Singapore’s flag carrier, Singapore Airlines and learnt more about the workings of the city’s port at PSA International. 

In between, the MBAs were also able to take in the sights and sounds of this cultural enclave. They immersed themselves in the traditions of one of the oldest housing estates in Singapore – Tiong Bahru, paid a visit to the 90-year old Qi Tian Gong temple, Singapore’s oldest temple, and indulged in delectable pastries at the historic Galicier Pastry. 

Throughout the week-long immersion, they were able to delve into what makes Singapore such an economically competitive city and still maintains the cultural heritage that ultimately makes Singapore unique.