All too often, Silicon Valley is considered the premier place to launch and grow a technology-based company. And, no doubt, the Valley has certainly earned its reputation as a hotbed for innovation, entrepreneurship and venture capital. One can’t deny the long list of successes including Hewlett-Packard, Apple, Intel, Oracle and Google, to name only a few. But look around today and you’ll note many technology companies, especially startups, experiencing success outside of the Valley.
Thriving startups are sprouting up across the United States in cities like Dallas, Chicago, Miami and Atlanta, (which is home to my company, Vitrue). These cities are providing startups with an environment for success and producing additional benefits along the way. How exactly? And why does it matter? A few thoughts come to mind…
Big Businesses Are Nationwide, Not Valley-Centric.
Technology startups are doing business with big brands and the vast majority are not located in the Valley. The Fortune 500 companies are diversely spread throughout the U.S. – to name a few: Texas boasts 51, Georgia has 14, Michigan hosts 22 and Virginia and Minnesota have 20 each. This is extremely beneficial for startups, as proximity to these larger organizations will greatly impact resources available, open doors for new opportunities and support a larger business community. Let’s look at the Dallas area to start. This region is home to an important economic community supported by large, global companies and brands like Southwest and American Airlines, Kimberly-Clark, AMR and Exxon as well as more tech-focused companies like AT&T and Texas Instruments. And startups in these areas have access to a whole community of business opportunities. Match.com has certainly been able to find success with its roots in Dallas.
By being close to the action, startups are on the pulse of what works for businesses – and thinking of B2B companies in particular, they’re also creating demand for many of the startups’ services. I specifically recognize a huge growth area in social media and cloud computing. Companies are grappling with if and how they should incorporate it into their business processes, from CRM to marketing to customer support, and there is a ton of innovation in this space. Zooming in on Atlanta, thriving B2B companies like Red Hat and startups, such as MailChimp and Scoutmob, can leverage potential opportunities presented by neighbors like Coca-Cola, Home Depot, UPS and Delta.
Avoiding Valley Tunnel Vision.
The Bay Area is well-known for its counterculture, protest spirit and an environment that embraces new ideas and risk-taking. But with the growth of the Valley as the hub for technology companies, perhaps we are experiencing a bit of tunnel vision when it comes to innovation and creative thinking. Startups that grow in the Valley are surrounded by some excellent mentors and success stories, but maybe they are lacking the real-world perspective about solutions companies truly need. Many startups are moving beyond this Valley Vision into other major markets and creating objective product pipelines and offering a holistic mindset with the ‘general public’s’ enterprise needs in tow. These startups understand that not all customers are interested in the new coolest gadget, but are instead looking for technology solutions that meet critical needs and effective ROI. And this broader perspective works. We’re even seeing B2B startups not headquartered in major metropolitan cities finding tremendous success outside the Valley’s zip code: Look no further than Salesforce’s acquisition of Radian6, a social monitoring solution, located in New Brunswick, Canada, or the recently acquired RightNow Technologies by Oracle, headquartered in Bozeman, Montana.
Even this past weekend, Mark Zuckerberg acknowledged that if he were to start Facebook today, he’d start it in Boston… “In Silicon Valley, you get this feeling that you have to be out here. But it’s not the only place to be.”
Believe it. Talent is Abundant Outside of The Valley.
Part of the reason we are seeing such great traction with startups outside the Valley is because the qualified talent pool is in no way limited to the Bay Area. Although Silicon Valley might be praised for hoarding top engineering talent, non-Valley startups receive their fair share of talent too, often establishing relationships with renowned engineering and entrepreneurial school programs around the country: think Georgia Tech, Emory and Georgia State in Atlanta; University of Illinois and University of Chicago; University of Texas in Austin; and the quadruple punch of N.C. State, UNC, Duke and Wake Forest in Raleigh’s metropolitan area. These non-Valley companies draw in a young, entrepreneurial and passionate workforce, bubbling with innovative ideas. And, hey, with the cost of living in these regions, startups have an advantage of operating at a lower cost and still offering employees a high quality of life in a cool, urban living environment.
Spreading the Wealth is Good for Our American Economic and Innovative Engines.
That technology companies and hotbeds are spreading across America is beneficial to not only startups but to American innovation and economics. According to the Kauffman Index, which ranked the U.S.’s top 15 states with high entrepreneurial activity, New York City was listed as number one, Chicago was not far behind in third place, Dallas came in fourth, and Atlanta listed as number nine (San Francisco was trailing behind at eleventh).
Since its birth, the United States has been a pioneer in industrial, business, and technological advancements for society: Henry Ford and the automobile; Thomas Edison and the light bulb; and Alexander Graham Bell and the telephone. But in today’s global and increasingly competitive world, many have voiced concerns that America is falling behind with innovation. Although I disagree with that — hello, iPad, iPhone — it is now as important as ever to promote and foster technological innovation and production across numerous cities and locations to help prosper our innovation, technology and economic output worldwide. And that’s good for everyone.
I certainly don’t discount the importance of Silicon Valley. At Vitrue, it’s a priority to stay connected to the latest technology innovations and companies to keep our product best-in-breed, and many of those connections take place within the Valley. But startups don’t have to be “headquartered” in the Valley to grow and thrive. Countless young companies are proof positive you don’t need a Silicon Valley zip code to be a success.
Reggie Bradford is founder and CEO of Atlanta-based Vitrue, a SaaS social marketing platform for global brands and agencies. He enjoys speaking about his experience starting a technology company outside of the Valley.