For our report "Best Places to Live for Tech Entrepreneurs," we wanted to get a sense of what it's really like to live and work in each of the cities on our list. While we wish we could have traveled to each city to scout it out in person, that would have put us a tad over budget. Instead, we interviewed more than 50 tech insiders to get the scoop on what makes their city tick.
Three themes came up repeatedly during our interviews:
- A collaborative tech community.
- Low cost of living.
- Ability to raise money and scale in place.
Almost everyone we spoke to mentioned these factors when discussing the tech scene in their city. Let's explore each trend in more detail.
1. It Takes a Village to Build a Tech Community
We quickly learned that a supportive community contributes to a thriving tech scene. We heard a variety of stories about fellow entrepreneurs pitching in to help each other out or mayors who actively work to grow the tech industry in their city.
Take Pittsburgh, for example. As reported by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the city now ranks 11th in venture capital investment dollars per capita among the 40 largest metropolitan statistical areas in the country. But one thing that really draws entrepreneurs to the city is the support they receive from others in the tech community.
"It's a very collaborate community," says
CEO and president of
Voci Technologies, Inc.
(@Vocitec)."If you've got a question or a problem and if you don't know somebody, but you know somebody who might know somebody, they're happy to try and help. Pittsburghers would like to see Pittsburgh-based companies be successful and they are happy to share their experience and knowledge."
Riverside, California, is another prime example of a supportive tech community. It was recently named one of the best cities for tech jobs by Forbes. One Riverside resident we spoke to gives a lot of the credit for both the recent tech boom and the success of his own business to the city's mayor.
"I think the biggest thing is that the city has been so supportive of BitPeel," says
Judd Lillestrand (@JuddLillestrand),
partner and senior software developer at
(@bitpeel). "The mayor, Rusty Bailey, he sees himself as an entrepreneurial mayor. He just really gets it in terms of small business."
2. It's Easier to Grow a Business When the Cost of Living Is Low
If you can barely afford to keep the lights on because of sky-high rents, it can really slow down your progress. That's why many entrepreneurs we spoke to mentioned the low cost of living in their community as one reason their business is thriving.
Living costs in Atlanta have inched up slightly in recent years, but its cost of living index is 99.9 (for perspective, New York City's is 227.4 and the average score is 100), according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. In other words, Atlanta is still a relative bargain for tech entrepreneurs who want to set up shop in a major metropolitan area.
"From a personal perspective, the quality of life and cost of living [are] clearly unrivaled from any other city of our size," says
economic development manager at
According to the San Antonio Economic Development Foundation, San Antonio's cost of living also ranks among the lowest for major US metropolitan areas, which is a big draw for the small tech businesses that call the place home.
"We pride ourselves on being a part of the new economy where you have every opportunity to work with or at a great technology company or build one, but also live in a community where the spending power of your paycheck is maximized," says
founder and CEO of
(@SATechBloc). "What that really means is more of your income is left as discretionary income and not sucked away by the transactional costs of life, like rent, utilities, and food."
Philadelphia makes the cut, too. As Forbes reports, its cost of living is only 0.6 percent higher than the national average, making it an affordable choice for an entrepreneur who wants to start a business in a major city.
"When we moved to Philadelphia, we were looking at where we wanted to live in the city and realized that we could actually afford to buy a house in Philadelphia," says
director of marketing and communications at
(@Leadnomics). "It's very affordable compared to other places we had lived."
3. Easy Access to Resources Promotes Expansion
Sure, some tech visionaries dream of hitting it big and making the move to Silicon Valley. But plenty of others prefer to build and grow a business where they already live. Several folks we spoke to pointed to resources in their city that allow entrepreneurs to expand in place.
Raleigh, North Carolina, for example, experienced a 38.5 percent increase in technology jobs between 2010 and 2015, according to Forbes, which named it the second hottest spot in the US for tech jobs. While a lot of that growth stems from some of the major tech players in town, such as IBM and Cisco Systems, there are plenty of resources in the city to help small tech businesses grow and thrive as well.
"Raleigh has a very strong networking community that supports entrepreneurship and tech," says
(@QuillorStudio). "Co-working places like Nest, HQ, Industrious, Loading Dock, and Building Co. help support local startups that need a low barrier to entry to bring their ideas to life, while still getting high-quality resources, business development, and networking to help grow their business."
Las Vegas has also seen a lot of investment in its tech community, and it's ranked among the top five metro areas for startup activity, according to a report by the Kaufman Foundation.
"There are two primary hubs around tech startups in Vegas," says
Leith Martin (@leithmartin),
executive director of the
University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Center for Entrepreneurship
(@UNLVCFE). "One is the Downtown Project started by Tony Hsieh, who is the CEO of Zappos. His goal was to revitalize downtown through a series of different programs that included investing in education and investing in tech startups located here or willing to move here. The other is the Innevation Center, which Switch developed. It's a co-working space / innovation type center where lots of activity takes place in regards to the startup community."
Accelerators also boost small tech businesses, which you can learn more about in "4 Accelerators that Can Help Your Tech Business Get off the Ground."