Get All Access for $5/mo

5 Cities You Wouldn't Expect to Have a Thriving Startup Scene How do Raleigh, Boca Raton and Cleveland sound to you as a possible new home for your business?

Edited by Dan Bova


When you're starting your own business, you want to have every advantage possible. You want a good co-founder, a good team, a good wealth of resources and as many resources as possible to get you through those extra tough early years of startup ownership. Accordingly, many entrepreneurs flock to cities with a reputation for a thriving startup scene.

Related: Top 10 Small Cities Where Business is Thriving

But what exactly qualifies as a "thriving" startup scene? What it mostly comes down to is how easily an aspiring entrepreneur can start a business and keep it running for more than a year. Helpful factors include:

  • The availability of funding, from both government-sponsored programs and resident venture capitalists.
  • The presence of other startups and entrepreneurs, who, in a kind of snowballing effect, attract more new entrepreneurs and can mentor promising candidates.
  • Programs like accelerators, incubators and competitions, to fuel innovation.
  • A potential customer base, as bigger cities with wealthier residents support new businesses, making more consumer purchases than do smaller, poorer counterparts.

We all know that densely populated cities on the West Coast, like San Francisco and Los Angeles, are startup meccas and that major cities East Coast cities like New York give them a good run for their money. But what about other big U.S. cities?

1. Seattle

Seattle's interesting geographic position makes it attractive to potential entrepreneurs. It's close to California and serves as a strong West Coast city, but stands apart on its own. A handful of super-successful startups have emerged from there, including Zillow, Amazon and Microsoft, making Seattle more attractive to entrepreneurs; and several new initiatives have emerged in recent years to make the city more accessible for small business development.

2. Boston

Boston is home to an ever-increasing number of startup organizations and programs, including MassChallenge, purported to be the world's largest startup accelerator. The Boston Foundation, which invests in nonprofits and aids the region's economic development, also assists. Proximity to multiple educational institutions like Boston University and M.I.T., plus an influx of angel investors, makes the city even sweeter for new entrepreneurs.

3. Cleveland

Located in the heart of the Midwest, Cleveland isn't especially close to either coast and is thus often seen as a kind of no man's land. But between its multiple colleges, including Cleveland State University, Case Western and John Carroll, and its multiple emerging accelerators and incubators, like Flashstarts and JumpStart, this city is well poised as an entrepreneurship hotspot.

Related: The 25 Best U.S. Cities for Tech Startups

4. Boca Raton

Located in a state that's stereotyped for its many retirees, this Florida city hosts an impressively educated population, with 47 percent of residents possessing a BA or higher. Also home to a massive IBM plant, Boca hosts dozens of startups that have emerged from tech professionals in the area looking to branch off on their own.

5. Raleigh

Raleigh still has a long way to go to host a new Silicon Valley, but its innovation summits are a great start, and its proximity to North Carolina State University, the University of North Carolina, Research Triangle Park and Meredith College gives it a ripe, educated young population.

How to Bolster the Startup Community of Your City

I chose these five cities because throughout my research, they seemed to be the ones with the most available resources and passionate communities (at least compared to public perception). I have two caveats, though: First, there's no truly objective way to measure what qualifies a city as friendly or useful for startups. There are too many subjective factors and unknown variables.

And, second, any city has the potential for a thriving startup scene -- all it takes are the right people to make it happen.

If you're an entrepreneur in a city not mentioned on this list, or one that still lacks a healthy startup scene for startups, there are actions you can personally take to spark improvement in your environment.

Start networking more, and make more people aware of your startup. Visit local colleges and speak to students about entrepreneurship opportunities. Connect with other successful entrepreneurs in your region, and try to start a program or workshop for new entrepreneurs, even if it's informal and small to start. You can also get involved politically by speaking to your representatives and pushing for more economic development opportunities.

The more active you are in your community, the greater the chance entrepreneurs like you will have to make an impact and survive in the current economic climate.

If your city has a thriving startup scene already, make an effort to participate in it more actively. Or consider starting one. Working together in better environments, all of us can find greater success.

Related: 9 Hot Startup U.S. Cities That Aren't San Francisco or New York

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

Editor's Pick

Business News

Apple Reportedly Isn't Paying OpenAI to Use ChatGPT in iPhones

The next big iPhone update brings ChatGPT directly to Apple devices.

Business News

Sony Pictures Entertainment Purchases Struggling, Cult-Favorite Movie Theater Chain

Alamo Drafthouse originally emerged from bankruptcy in June 2021.


Are Your Business's Local Listings Accurate and Up-to-Date? Here Are the Consequences You Could Face If Not.

Why accurate local listings are crucial for business success — and how to avoid the pitfalls of outdated information.

Growing a Business

He Immigrated to the U.S. and Got a Job at McDonald's — Then His Aversion to Being 'Too Comfortable' Led to a Fast-Growing Company That's Hard to Miss

Voyo Popovic launched his moving and storage company in 2018 — and he's been innovating in the industry ever since.

Money & Finance

Day Traders Often Ignore This One Topic At Their Peril

Boring things — like taxes — can sometimes be highly profitable.


Want to Be More Productive Than Ever? Treat Your Personal Life Like a Work Project.

It pays to emphasize efficiency and efficacy when managing personal time.