7 Top Cities for Startups – Outside of Silicon Valley

January 20, 2015

9:00 am

Screw the Valley.

This is the title of a new book by Timothy Sprinkle, a business journalist who has written for outlets like Wired and Entrepreneur magazine.

Why the harsh words? Sprinkle is speaking out against the common myth that you have to move to Silicon Valley to be successful – a myth that’s discouraging for entrepreneurs across the country and downright wrong. He’s talking about the drawbacks of Silicon Valley – the competition, the cost of living, the hype.

To write this book, Sprinkle spent a year traveling to seven other US startup ecosystems, meeting with over 200 entrepreneurs, investors, and community members. His book is a guide to those other startup hotspots: why they’re unique, what industries they foster, and what potential they have for the future.

He chose the cities based on how much startup activity per capita they have and how organized and accessible the startup community is. “New York was the exception, but I was looking for smaller cities with dense cores of entrepreneurial activity, and these are the ones that kept coming up in conversations,” says Sprinkle.

Here are the seven top startup cities that Sprinkle highlights in Screw the Valley: A Coast-to-Coast Tour of America’s New Tech Startup Culture.

Austin, Texas

Screw the Valley - Austin

Sprinkle: “Austin has been a tech-minded city for decades – dating back to the 1960s when IBM, Texas Instruments, and other hardware companies located in the city – so it has a deep base of experienced, been-there-done-that mentors to help show new entrepreneurs the way. It also has an active coworking / incubator community anchored by Capital Factory downtown, and its central US location makes it easy to get to both the East and West Coasts.” 

Boulder, Colorado

screw the valley - boulder

Sprinkle: “A compact, tight-knit downtown means that both new and established entrepreneurs run into each other on a regular basis, having coffee, sharing ideas, and making deals. Brad Feld, the founder of now-national tech incubator Techstars, is right in the middle of all this with his venture capital firm, Foundry Group, attracting well-known, successful founders to the city. Quality of life is also sky-high, and that attracts a lot of young, active recent grads to the area.”

Raleigh, North Carolina

Screw the Valley - Raleigh

Sprinkle: “50-plus years of research and development history in the area thanks to the Research Triangle Park means there are a lot of highly educated, free-thinking people in the region. Plus, there are three major research universities within 30 minutes of each other – UNC, Duke, and NC State – providing a steady stream of new talent with a reason to move to and stay in the area.”

Detroit, Michigan

Screw the Valley - Detroit

Sprinkle: “Yes, the cost of living is cheap and rent is a bargain, but entrepreneurs in Detroit see themselves as part of something bigger. For them, most of whom grew up in the area so it is home, want to contribute to the renaissance of Detroit, and see technology as a big part of the solution. Lots and lots of optimism, coupled with the deep pockets of Dan Gilbert who himself is on a mission to revitalize the downtown core.”

New York City, New York

Screw the Valley - NYC

Sprinkle: “It’s New York. It’s expensive to get started there, but there is plenty of money in New York and East Coast investors are becoming more savvy when it comes to investing in the technology space. For consumer startups, it is also one of the largest consumer markets in the world, so broadcasting your product locally can quickly have global implications.”

Kansas City, Missouri

Screw the Valley - Kansas City

Sprinkle: “The central location makes for an interesting business history. KC was always at the center of the US railroad network, and when the telephone came along those lines were usually installed along rail lines. Hence, KC is now the epicenter of the US telecommunications network, home to Sprint PCS and others. That’s a great resource to have in the area. It’s also a very low-cost-of-living area, making it easier for entrepreneurs to get off the ground with minimal investment. Lots of founders are working two or three startups on the side of their full-time job, so it’s a very active community. The ‘startup village’ area near downtown gives the community a place to congregate for events and office space.”

Las Vegas, Nevada

Screw the Valley - Las Vegas

Sprinkle: “Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh is the driving force behind the area’s recent tech buildup, but there were companies in the area before he arrived. Lots of funding available for entrepreneurs willing to locate in the downtown core. It’s a fairly small community, so it’s tight-knit and very involved. Lots of activities and opportunities for new founders to get information, advice, and funding. Cost of living is also very low downtown. There are long-term questions about the sustainability of the ecosystem, though, as Hsieh is keeping it afloat with his personal fortune at the moment.”

Tech Cocktail recently did a report on how accelerators have kickstarted startup scenes in four cities – including Austin, Boulder, and Detroit. Read it here.


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Kira M. Newman is a Tech Cocktail writer interested in the harsh reality of entrepreneurship, work-life balance, and psychology. She is the founder of The Year of Happy and has been traveling around the world interviewing entrepreneurs in Asia, Europe, and North America since 2011. Follow her @kiramnewman or contact kira@tech.co.

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