Silicon Valley remains the undisputed capital of the world for startups and has been since 1939 when Stanford alumni David Packard and Willian Hewlett established a little electronics company in a Palo Alto garage. That iconic event is considered by many to have been the birthplace of “Silicon Valley.”
Yet, since then, many other startup hubs have emerged across the country, among them New York and Boston. And, this year, while the Red Sox may have edged New York’s baseball teams by being play-offs-bound, U.S. startup rankings are something else again. There, New York has once again edged Beantown for second place.
Evidence? Last year, a report by Compass declared that the New York City startup community had reached a mature level, firmly planting the city in second place. Small comfort for Yankee and Mets fans, but great news for the startup industry.
New York startups, in fact, have more than doubled their relative share of the dollar volume invested into new U.S. tech companies since 2006. Despite those healthy gains, New York edged Boston by only a small margin.
Specifically, New York accounted for more than 25 percent of total VC dollar volume in the third quarter of 2016. Boston startups, in contrast, startups experienced a slight decline in funding for early- and growth-stage startups, shrinking Beantown startups’ average share of dollar volume by 20 percent in the ten years from 2006 to 2016.
Why? What makes one city more attractive than the other for startups?
Experts cite a number of factors, such as community engagement and access to resources. Another factor is the percentage of small businesses in high-growth areas, which usually happens in big cities. Broader issues, like taxes, schools and affordable housing, also help determine whether people want to work or live in a specific city.
While cities will always welcome Fortune 100 companies, of course, more and more are making a big push to attract today’s modern-day industrial movement: startups. Obviously, the money they bring is less, but the agile culture they offer can help modernize a city and help it adapt to the ever-charging demands of modern business.
So, before you pack everything you own and move to a big city, here are some things to keep in mind about the right city to start your business.
1. Learn what the city has to offer.
Everyone knows San Francisco and New York are vibrant, world-famous cities. But if that sparkle is all you see, you’ll be blind and bankrupt in no time. These cities are expensive, and while I encourage everyone to dream big, you need to think about what you can afford right now.
Think about it this way. As a kid, you learned how to walk first, then you learned to run. It’s the same in business. Dream big, but don’t get ahead of yourself.
2. Does your business mesh with the city?
Every city has a vibe of its own.
San Francisco is a place where everyone seems to have an idea for everything — cab drivers, baristas, hotel staff — you name it. A place like New York can scare the pants out of the most seasoned businessperson. New York’s energy and attitude are not for everyone. The Big Apple’s attitude? It basically tells you not to come unless you’re willing to play the game.
Ask yourself if the pain point your business solves will stand out in a big city. Will it be unique, or compete with what other well-established brands offer? If your business isn’t ready for the Great White Way, don’t force the issue. Find your niche, and to make a splash, learn how to play the game; study your competitors. Look to make the right connections first.
3. Will your family thrive here?
Not every entrepreneur is a fresh-faced kid. Some make it big when they’re young, and some make it later in life. If you have a spouse and kids, ask yourself: Is it worth moving everyone thousands of miles away?
Not everyone is willing to pack up and move, and that’s all right. The success of your business will have a direct correlation to whether your family will thrive in a new city. Be sure those two elements align.
Other cities to consider
Remember that just because you’re not in San Francisco or New York doesn’t mean that you won’t be successful. There are plenty of other startup hubs all over the country. In fact, here are the top 15 startup regions making a name for themselves — among them San Diego, Seattle, Austin and Salt Lake City.
And, while New York and Boston take their storied rivalry from the diamond to the startup arena, there’s another major metropolis climbing the ladder — Chicago.
Just as the 2016 Chicago Cubs did, the Windy City is slowly but surely coming into its own, with the highest percentage of profitable startups, according to PitchBook. That company found that 45 percent of investments in Chicago had produced 10 times their return on investment (ROI), and while the sample sizes were smaller, the numbers found were nothing to sneeze at.
Brian Duncan, partner at Chowly, says Chicago’s appeal can be credited to how companies there cultivated the landscape that paved the road for newer startups to succeed. “The cost of living [in Chicago]compared to other markets is definitely attractive to entrepreneurs, who are operating on a tight budget. And Chicago has also embraced the growth of women entrepreneurs,” Duncan said.
Chicago entrepreneur, Smync’s Jeff Ernst, had another explanation: You have to look at “the 4 C’s,” he said: community, capital, cost of living and customers. In fact, 1871 was ranked the best incubator in the nation, and with good reason. 1871 has done a great job connecting elements of the community that have traditionally faced challenges entering the tech community, like the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce; Women’s Introduction to Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (WiSTEM); Coding While Black; and Bunker Labs.
A wider net
From a personal standpoint, I am excited that entrepreneurship is casting a wider net and, that outside New York and San Francisco, more cities are willing to invest in their own future. I’m originally from South Dakota, which is where I got my start in business.
In my latest book, Think Big, Act Bigger, I talk about South Dakota and fishing in a bigger pond overall. After making it big in Sioux Falls, I personally found a bigger pond at the state level. I may have been big in South Dakota, but I realized there were 49 other states out there to get bigger in.
If you decide to take your business to a bigger pond, my advice is to scale yourself, stretch, find balance and then reinvent and adapt again — all while staying true to yourself. No matter where you are, you can always create bigger stories; but staying true to yourself is directly tied into your success.
Whether you choose a big city to start your business or decide to go small, just remember this: There’s no one way to win in business. Success is a relative term, and whether it’s New York, Boston, San Francisco or Pocatello that you choose, just take care of your business, and the rest will follow.