Note from Editors
Startups will thrive in Baltimore, Salt Lake City, Nashville, Tenn and 6 more cities. Choose where to go for each city has an industry focus.
Ask someone to name cities with thriving #tech, media, fashion or food scenes, and you’ll hear the usual suspects: San Francisco; New York; Portland, Ore. But there’s a slew of other metro areas with established infrastructure and skilled work forces that can match those more established locations at a fraction of the cost of living and with less day-to-day stress. These are the places where #startup dreams come easier and cheaper, but can still pay off big. Start packing.
1. Salt Lake City
Best for: Software and hardware
Metro-area population: 1.1 million
Median household income: $53,036
Median home price: $243,300
College graduates: 31%
Tech companies such as Adobe and Workday are moving to “Silicon Slopes” in droves, inspired by startups launched by alumni from software pioneers Novell and WordPerfect, not to mention the easy access to world-class skiing. On the hardware side, everything from flash memory chips (one of every 14 worldwide is made here) to Skullcandy headphones calls the Wasatch Front home. VCs invested nearly $1 billion in local startups last year, making Salt Lake tops nationally in dollar-per-deal average.
The Utah Science Technology and Research Economic Development Initiative provides funding to the University of Utah in Salt Lake and Utah State University in nearby Ogden to research new technologies and spin them off into a handful of companies each year. And when the state’s insurance department wanted to ban Zenefits, a Silicon Valley startup that gives away its HR-management software for free, Governor Gary Herbert signed a law reversing the ban, stating, “Utah is open for #business.”
Did you know? Thanks to thousands of Mormon missionaries returning from time abroad, Utah has the highest percentage of foreign-language speakers in the country.
Best for: Education
Metro-area population: 2.7 million
Median household income: $68,455
Median home price: $223,100
College graduates: 36%
There’s a quiet revolution happening in Baltimore, which has become a booming hub of education-focused companies anchored by Johns Hopkins University, named the best grad school for education by U.S. News & World Report. The city is also home to Laureate Education (formerly Sylvan Learning), a for-profit education powerhouse.
Now Baltimore is luring ed-tech startups. Citelighter, which helps K-12 students and teachers organize and share research via a browser plug-in, recently moved there from New York City and received $100,000 as a housewarming gift from Technology Development Corp., Maryland’s public fund investing in tech companies.
Baltimore teachers work with diverse student populations and are entrepreneur-friendly, willing to test out new tech and ideas in classrooms. The city regularly hosts events to connect entrepreneurs with educators; a recent Baltimore Tech for Schools event drew 1,100 teachers and school administrators to check out product demos.
Did you know? Of the nation’s largest school systems by enrollment, Baltimore has the third-highest spending per pupil on an annual basis.
3. Nashville, Tenn.
Best for: Media
Metro-area population: 1.5 million
Median household income: $44,223
Median home price: $186,400
College graduates: 31%
It has long been a hotbed for the music business—evidenced this year by the first graduating class of the Project Music accelerator at the Nashville Entrepreneur Center—but Nashville has experienced a miniature media explosion. Among the spate of new creative agencies and fledgling media companies are
Good.Must.Grow., a nonprofit digital agency that develops corporate media strategies. Meanwhile, co-working spaces such as Refinery, Deavor, the Skillery and Weld have popped up to cater to self-employed media workers.
Driving the boom is Nashville’s growing population of college grads, ages 25 to 34, which increased 48 percent between 2000 and 2012. Among U.S. cities, only Houston experienced faster growth in its young-grad population.
Did you know? Nashville is home to bestselling novelist Ann Patchett, who in 2011 teamed up with publishing veteran Karen Hayes to open Parnassus, a successful independent bookstore.
4. Kansas City, Mo./Kan.
Best for: Specialty foods
Metro-area population: 2 million
Median household income: $46,193
Median home price: $153,000
College graduates: 33%
Krizman’s House of Sausage has been selling ethnic sausages and knockwurst to Kansas City locals since 1939. It’s one of the city’s growing number of specialty-foods businesses—including bakeries, breweries, distilleries, candy-makers and, of course, bottlers of barbecue sauce. Driving this growth are three local food-business incubators, including the Farm to Table Kitchen housed at the famed City Market, designed to help “foodpreneurs” connect with mentors, commercial kitchens, collaborative infrastructure, marketing awareness and the greater Kansas City food community. The result: In the past two years, 71 new food companies were started in the area.
Did you know? Kansas City claims to be the birthplace of the bacon craze; two local entrepreneurs invented a dish called “Bacon Explosion” back in 2008 and published the recipe on their blog, BBQ Addicts.
5. Sacramento, Calif.
Best for: Ag tech
Metro-area population: 2.1 million
Median household income: $46,106
Median home price: $275,800
College graduates: 30%
California’s capital, in the heart of the state’s farming-focused Central Valley, was mockingly known as “Cow Town” for decades. But in today’s foodie culture, Sacramento’s location is a plus. The region is home to 18 agriculture and food technology startups, and the sector is growing faster there than at any time before. Central Valley farmers grow high-value crops such as almonds, which generate more than $5,000 per acre (but consume vast amounts of water— controversial in the drought-stricken state), while winemakers in nearby Napa and Sonoma counties are always looking for farming innovation for their grapes—and can afford to pay for it.
The scene’s foundation can be traced 25 miles west to the University of California, Davis, the world’s top-ranked research university in agriculture. Thanks to a $40 million grant from candy-maker Mars, the school is building a World Food Center that will combine food science and policy with innovation and #investment opportunities. It’s also creating a lab and incubator space for life-science startups, and its new Venture Catalyst will look to convert UC research into viable businesses. Even Silicon Valley has noticed: Last year, VC heavyweight Vinod Khosla put $7.5 million into Davis-based startup BioConsortia, which uses microbes to increase crop yields.
Did you know? Even though it’s almost 90 miles inland from San Francisco, Sacramento connects to the Pacific Ocean via the Deep Water Ship Channel, allowing the Port of Sacramento to handle oceangoing cargo ships.
6. Minneapolis – St. Paul
Best for: Restaurants
Metro-area population: 3.2 million
Median household income: $54,304
Median home price: $209,400
College graduates: 39%
Statistics from the Minneapolis-Saint Paul Regional Economic Development Partnership indicate an estimated 19 percent increase in the number of full-service restaurants opening in the past 10 years, ranking the region among the hottest in the country for restaurant startups.
The poster child for the boom is James Beard Award-winning native chef Gavin Kaysen, who studied in New England; worked in Paris, San Diego and New York (under celebrity chef Daniel Boulud); then moved back to his hometown in 2014 to open Spoon and Stable, widely regarded as one of the city’s best eateries.
That’s not to say you need a name-brand curriculum vitae to open for business. New food trucks are rolling out across the cities—faster than the economic development office can keep track of them—as entrepreneurs seek a low-cost avenue to try food concepts and build a following before signing a lease for a brick-and-mortar restaurant.
Did you know? With its heavy Scandinavian population, Minneapolis is a key U.S. player in the most avant-garde movement in food today: New Nordic cuisine, based on fish, dairy and cold-weather crops such as rutabagas, mushrooms and radishes.
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Note: Featured Image credit to rylik.ru
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