Top 30 Best Cities for Young Entrepreneurs 2013

by / ⠀Personal Branding Startup Advice / March 19, 2013

One of the most important things you’ll do when starting your business is to pick where to setup shop. You want to find a place that offers business resources but also the lifestyle and culture that you want. The below list breaks down 30 cities across the United States into three different categories based on the population of the cities. Then Under30CEO readers were asked to vote on the locations they thought were the best places for a new company to open shop based on local resources, culture, atmosphere and overall appeal to a young twenty-something. Did your city make the cut?

Large Cities: Population 500,000+

1. Austin, TX


Austin is no surprise to be at the top of the list. The city has been a hub for innovation and entrepreneurship for years, all centered around the annual SXSW festival. The city is also home to the University of Texas which provides the city with a steady flow of talented graduates and an overall vibrant scene. Compared to cities like San Francisco and New York, Austin has a much lower cost of living. Companies that have offices in Austin include Hostgator, HomeAway, Blizzard Entertainment, Facebook and Google.

2. San Francisco, CA


San Francisco is always at the center of anything in the Startup world. It has been a long-time staple in the scene since the dot com boom of the 90’s. Silicon Valley where many of today’s prominent tech companies call home and arguably the VC capital of the world is only a short drive. The University of California as well as Stanford both provide the city and surrounding area with plenty of top talent entering the tech world. Companies that have offices in San Francisco include Craigslist, Twitter, Zynga, and Airbnb.

3. Louisville, KY


Louisville has a population of over 700,000 and supports five colleges: University of Louisville, Bellarmine University, Spalding University, Sullivan University, and Simmons College of Kentucky.  The city is vibrant and college sports are a huge event with so many schools in the area. The city is critical in the cargo and shipping industry as it is within one day’s road travel to 60% of the cities in the continental U.S.. According to the Kauffman Foundation in 2011 Louisville outperformed the nation in being home to fast growth companies and was among the top states in the nation in terms of new start-up companies formed.

4. New York, NY


While New York is a hub for innovation and entrepreneurship in industries like fashion, real estate, media and finance. The city also has an extremely high cost of living which makes it a tough choice for many young bootstrapping entrepreneurs. However, you can also find opportunities all around you with easy to access meetups, incubators, coworking spaces, investors and high profile startups. Some startups that call New York home are Gilt, Square, ZocDoc and Thrillist.

5. Nashville, TN


As the “home of country music”, Nashville has become a major music recording and production center. The city is home to major schools like Vanderbilt University, Tennessee State University and Belmont University. The city has a low cost of living and a median age of 34.2 years old. This makes it an attractive spot for young business owners along with it’s growing population.

6. Boston, MA


The area’s many colleges and universities make Boston an international center of higher education and medicine, and the city is considered highly innovative for a variety of reasons. Boston has a very high cost of living but it also maintains itself as a great place to live. Boston’s colleges and universities have a significant effect on the regional economy, with students contributing an estimated $4.8 billion annually to the city’s economy. Companies like TripAdvisor, ZipCar, and TaskRabbit call Boston home as well as a multitude of bio-tech companies.

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7. Portland, OR


Portland has become a go to place for many young professionals in recent years. The move is driven by a relaxed culture, numerous outdoor activies all year and an overall high quality of living. Of course the fact that Portland is home to more breweries than any other city in the world and was named the best city for happy hour in the U.S. in 2010 by CNBC doesn’t hurt! The ctiy is home to companies like SurveyMonkey, AboutUs, Dotster, and Get Clicky.

8. Denver, CO


A great location in the Rocky Mountains makes Denver a unqiue place to live. Young people seek out the great outdoor lifestyle and unlimited winter activities. Denver has been the starting point for many companies we all know of today like Chipotle Mexican Grill, Quizno’s and MapQuest and the vibrant startup scene in Boulder is just a short drive away.

9. Chicago, IL


Chicago has grown into an amazing entrepreneurial ecosystem in the past three years. With great tech companies from years past like Orbitz and new powerhouses like Groupon calling Chicago home, the necessary infrastructure for an entrepreneur to succeed has sprung up, from venture capital firms to legal resources to startup accelerators. With two major airports it’s easy travel to anywhere in the nation. The city and its surrounding metropolitan area are home to the second largest labor pool in the United States with approximately 4.25 million workers.

10. Seattle, WA


What goes hand in hand with entrepreneurship? Coffee! Seattle has a reputation for heavy coffee consumption; coffee companies founded or based in Seattle include Starbucks, Seattle’s Best Coffee, and Tully’s. High-tech companies like Amazon and Microsoft also call the Seattle area home. Seattle’s young educated scene is also driven by  University of Washington which Businessweek ranked in the Top 5 Business Schools on the west coast in 2013.

Medium Cities: Population 250,000 – 500,000

1. Atlanta, GA


Encompassing $304 billion, the Atlanta metropolitan area is the eighth-largest economy in the country and 17th-largest in the world.  Atlanta contains the country’s third largest concentration of Fortune 500 companies, and the city is the global headquarters of corporations such as The Coca-Cola Company, The Home Depot, Delta Air Lines, AT&T Mobility, UPS, and Newell-Rubbermaid. There are more than 30 colleges and universities located in the city, Atlanta is considered a center for higher education. This provides a great talent pool for any company coming to town.

2. Raleigh, NC

raleigh, NC

Raleigh’s low unemployment rate and high number of businesses per person make it a great city for entrepreneurs. As of 2011, Time ranked Raleigh, NC as the third most educated city in the US based on the percentage of residents who held college degrees. This is due to the many schools in Raleigh and the surrounding area.

3. Cincinnati, OH


Cincinnati is home to many major and diverse corporations such as Procter & Gamble, The Kroger Company, Macy’s, Inc. (owner of Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s), Benziger Brothers and American Financial Group. Cincinnati is home to the University of Cincinnati and Xavier University.

4. Kansas City, MO


Did you know there was a Silicon Prairie? Well maybe not, but Kansas City is at the heart of entrepreneurship in the Midwest. The city is the headquarters of many major companies like Sprint, H&R Block, AMC Theaters, Applebee’s and more. Kansas City is also home to the largest foundation for entrepreneurs in the world, The Kauffman Foundation.

5. St. Louis, MO


In 2012 the Kauffman Foundation ranked Missouri sixth in the nation for the rate at which residents launch businesses. This is why we see Kansas City & St. Louis back to back with Columbia in the next category. As of 2011, the St. Louis area is home to nine Fortune 500 companies, including Express Scripts, Emerson Electric, Monsanto, Reinsurance Group of America, Ameren, Charter Communications, Peabody Energy, Graybar Electric, and Centene.

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6. New Orleans, LA


The city has seen numerous incubators and events catered to assisting entrepreneurs come to town which has boosted the resources the city has available. It’s also well known that New Orleans has an amazing, vibrant and inspiring culture that attracts the creative entrepreneur types. But the main driver for young entrepreneurs may really be that for all of this the cost of living in the city is extremely low especially when compared to places like New York, Boston or Chicago.

7. Tulsa, OK


In response to a severe economic downturn in 2001- 2003, a development initiative, Vision 2025, promised to incite economic growth and recreate lost jobs. Part of this initiative was to support and develop more small businesses which have led to resources and a favorable environment for companies. Tulsa has 15 institutions of higher education including University of Tulsa and Oral Roberts University.

8. Minneapolis, MN


Minneapolis has cultural organizations that draw creative people and audiences to the city for theater, visual art, writing, and music. Five Fortune 500 corporations make their headquarters within the city limits of Minneapolis: Target, U.S. Bancorp, Xcel Energy, Ameriprise Financial and Thrivent Financial for Lutherans. Availability of Wi-Fi, transportation solutions, medical trials, university research and development expenditures, advanced degrees held by the work force, and energy conservation are so far above the national average that in 2005, Popular Science named Minneapolis the “Top Tech City” in the U.S. Minneapolis’ collegiate scene is dominated by the main campus of the University of Minnesota with more than 50,000 attendees.

9. Omaha, NE

omaha nebraska

Omaha is right in the middle of Silicon Prairie and is home to Big Omaha which is a leading conference on entrepreneurship. Schools in Omaha include the University of Nebraska and Creighton University. Omaha is the home to the headquarters of five Fortune 500 companies: packaged-food giant ConAgra Foods; the U.S.’s largest railroad operator, Union Pacific Corporation; insurance and financial firm Mutual of Omaha; one of the world’s largest construction companies, Kiewit Corporation; and Warren Buffet’s mega-conglomerate Berkshire Hathaway.

10. Pittsburgh, PA


30 regional colleges and universities, including two tier-1 research schools (Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh), are huge drivers in producing local talent. Both of these universities are making the biggest strides in providing programs and resources to the local entrepreneurship scene. With mentors, funding, business plan competitions and technical talent they have begun to turn Pittsburgh around.

Small Cities: Population 100,000 – 250,000

1. Chattanooga, TN


Chattanooga is home to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (UTC) and Chattanooga State Community College. In September 2010, EPB became the first municipally-owned utilities company to offer internet access directly to the public at speeds up to one gigabit per second in the United States utilizing its exclusive fiber optics network. The fiber optic network has been emulated by at least six other cities in Tennessee and studied by other cities in the US and even internationally. This type of technology has made Chattanooga a player in attracting tech talent to the city.

2. Columbia, MO


Columbia is a great place to live. It offers a high quality of life for people of all ages and interests, a low cost of living, an excellent education system, outstanding health care. The city has three institutions of higher education: the University of Missouri, Columbia College, and Stephens College. Local resources for entrepreneurs includes The Mizzou Advantage, Enterprise Development Corporation, Centennial Investors, AdVentures, and Student Angel Capital Group.

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3. Charleston, SC


Charleston has always been ranked as a great place to live in the United States. Charleston has received a large number of accolades; they include “America’s Most Friendly City” by Travel + Leisure in 2011 and subsequently Southern Living magazine named Charleston “the most polite and hospitable city in America”. Charleston is becoming a prime location for information technology jobs and corporations and has experienced some highest growth in this sector between 2011 and 2012 due in large part to the Charleston Digital Corridor. The CDC is a creative effort to attract, nurture & promote Charleston’s knowledge economy by facilitating a business, physical and social environment where technology companies thrive.

4. Madison, WI

Closeup of  Downtown Madison Wisconsin, from Lake Monona

In 2006, Forbes listed Madison as number 31 in the top 200 metro areas for “Best Places for Business and Careers.” Madison is a great place for entrepreneurs because it has great quality of life for an inexpensive price, a thriving tech scene and a top notch public university where you can find great talent. There is a 25 percent investor tax credit that makes raising money easier and organizations like Capital Entrepreneurs, Merlin Mentors and Forward Technology Festival create a vibrant ecosystem. According to Forbes magazine, Madison ranks second in the nation in education of it’s residents.

5. Columbia, SC

columbia, sc

The state’s flagship and largest university, the University of South Carolina, is located in Columbia. The median age is 29 years which leads to a exciting and active local culture drive by the multiple colleges in the area. The low cost of living and great culture make Columbia a great spot to start a business.

6. Scottsdale, AZ

scottsdale, az

The region’s year-round warm weather and abundant sunshine is a major factor in Scottsdale’s appeal. Over the past several years however, Scottsdale’s growing abundance of trendy, high-end nightlife, upscale restaurants, art galleries and luxury shopping, has made it a highly popular destination for the younger generation. Among the companies headquartered in Scottsdale are APL, Dial, Fender, Go Daddy, Kahala and Kona Grill.

7. Salt Lake City, UT

Salt Lake City Skyline

The city is known as the “Crossroads of the West” for its central geography in the western United States. There is no talent shortage in Salt Lake City as there are 9 universities operating in the city including University of Utah, Westminster College, Utah State University and Brigham Young.  BYU’s chapter of the Collegiate Entrepreneurs’ Organization is always a national competitor.

8. Syracuse, NY


In 2010 Forbes rated Syracuse 4th in the top 10 places to raise a family. Syracuse’s major research universities is Syracuse University, it has an enrollment of 21,029. While the city has gone through changes as industrial jobs have left the area the University has been a major growth point for new opportunities and young talent.

9. Baton Rouge, LA


Baton Rouge enjoys a strong economy that has helped the city be ranked as one of the “Top 10 Places for Young Adults” in 2010 by Portfolio Magazine. In 2009, the city was ranked as the 9th best place in the country to start a new business by CNN. A low cost of living and a media age of median age was 30 years old makes Baton Rouge a great location for young entrepreneurs.

10. Birmingham, AL


The Birmingham metropolitan area has consistently been rated as one of America’s best places to work and earn a living based on the area’s competitive salary rates and relatively low living expenses. Birmingham is also the home of Alabama LunachPad which is a innovative public-private partnership brings together Alabama’s university, business and economic development communities to encourage and support high-growth entrepreneurship in Alabama. The area is home to  University of Alabama School of Medicine,  University of Alabama School of Dentistry, University of Alabama at Birmingham and Birmingham-Southern College.

About The Author

Matt Wilson

Matt Wilson is Co-Founder of Under30Experiences, a travel company for young people ages 21-35. He is the original Co-founder of Under30CEO (Acquired 2016). Matt is the Host of the Live Different Podcast and has 50+ Five Star iTunes Ratings on Health, Fitness, Business and Travel. He brings a unique, uncensored approach to his interviews and writing. His work is published on, Forbes, Inc. Magazine, Huffington Post, Reuters, and many others. Matt hosts yoga and fitness retreats in his free time and buys all his food from an organic farm in the jungle of Costa Rica where he lives. He is a shareholder of the Green Bay Packers.


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