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I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for 11 years before moving to London for three, but my wife and I grew up in the Midwest, which meant annual trips home for the holidays. Our nights were usually packed with family events or reconnecting with old friends, but our days were relatively free. In fact, getting out of my parents’ house would have done me some good (everyone has their breaking point). Grabbing coffee with a startup founder or local tech investor or just going downtown would have provided me with both a necessary escape and a look at how much had changed during the years I’d been away.
For many Midwest cities, like Indianapolis, Columbus, and Pittsburgh, a lot has changed. Trendy communities have sprung forth from neighborhoods once marred by industrial homogeny or urban neglect. Warehouses became gorgeous loft apartments and derelict old homes transformed into prime real estate. Good beer, coffee, and food followed. The West Loop is a perfect example of how even established cities like Chicago or Minneapolis are changing to accommodate a workforce that is as likely to work in tech as on the exchanges or for a Fortune 500 company.
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So to help those Midwest natives coming home from Silicon Valley for the holidays, I’ve compiled a quick list of things to do in your old (new) hometown. As an added bonus, I’ve provided some great locations for you to check out.
Grab a coffee with a local tech investor
While you’ve been away, an ecosystem of venture investors has developed and is actively helping startups grow into large, market-defining businesses. Drive Capital (my firm) is one of those, and we’ve been active across most of these cities. Investors can give you an overview of the landscape and introduce you to companies that are poised to become the next Braintree, GrubHub, or ExactTarget.
Pittsburgh: Constellation Coffee and Delanies Coffee
Chicago: Bow Truss Coffee Roasters and Intelligentsia Coffee
Columbus: Mission Coffee and One Line Coffee
Ann Arbor: Sweetwater’s Coffee and Tea
Minneapolis: Peace Coffee
Have lunch with a friend who works for a tech company
Many large employers in Midwest cities are now tech companies. Epic Systems in Madison, Salesforce Marketing Cloud in Indianapolis, and Groupon in Chicago employ thousands. See for yourself that it’s not just law firms and banks anymore. It’s likely that their corporate food service includes vegan, gluten-free, cold-pressed, and locally sourced options to accommodate your delicate Bay Area palate.
Grab a beer with a startup founder
The best way to explore your hometown is to talk to its entrepreneurs. What problems are they trying to solve? How are they building their company? What are the differences between building a startup there versus in Silicon Valley? Their answers to these questions will surprise you.
And you may be able to help. Your experiences are valuable and may lead to advisory opportunities even if you have no plans to return in the near future. Helping people is fun, and the impact on your hometown when a local startup succeeds is profound.
Minneapolis: Surly Brewing Co.
Columbus: Land Grant Brewing Company and Rock Mill Tavern
Cincinnati: Rhinegeist Brewery and Beer Garden
Cleveland: Platform Brewing Company and The Market Garden Brewery
Pittsburgh: Grist House Craft Brewery
Just go downtown
As I mentioned above, the downtown area of just about every mid-sized to large Midwest city is dramatically different from when you grew up there. If your parents live in the suburbs, you might have missed it. So spend some time checking out the many great restaurants, bars, and neighborhoods driving the cultural revival of your local big city, even if you don’t meet with an investor or startup founder.
Peek at real estate listings on Zillow
This one is obvious — so obvious you’ve probably done it the last three times you’ve been home.
The point of all of this is to collect data. At the very least, you’ll maintain your sanity by getting away from the in-laws for a couple of hours. At most, you’ll learn that exciting opportunities for tech companies are not limited to the Bay Area.
Robert Hatta is the Talent Partner at Drive Capital, a VC fund focused on innovative companies throughout the Midwest. This post originally appeared on LinkedIn.
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