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Where Great Entrepreneurs Come From

Cheer up, Buffalo, Indianapolis and Salt Lake: A new study of the Inc. 500 shows that fast-growing companies can come from just about anywhere.

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You don't have to move to Silicon Valley or even New York or Boston to have a shot at founding an Inc 500 company. In fact, you may be better off in some cities not normally praised for innovation. The not-for-profit Kauffman Foundation analyzed 30 years’ worth of Inc 500 lists and found some intriguing surprises.

  • The winner is: Washington, D.C. The nation’s capital has been home to more Inc 500 companies than any other major metropolitan area. In the decade beginning in 2000, Washington, D.C. was home to 385 Inc 500 firms.
  • By state, California and Texas rank highest in the number of Inc 500 firms they’ve produced. That’s not terribly surprising, since those states also have the largest populations. But the number three slot goes to Virginia, which has only the 12th largest population. Fourth place goes to Massachusetts, which ranks only 14th by population. 
  • Innovation is coming from some surprising places. When adjusted for population, Indianapolis ranks 6th in the number of Inc 500 firms, and Buffalo ranks 11th. Other cities you might not suspect: Baltimore (15th), Philadelphia (19th) and Louisville, Kentucky (20th).
  • Utah is a rising star. In the 1980s only 28 Inc 500 firms came out of Utah, but in the 1990s that number rose to 68. In the 2000’s, 117 Inc 500 companies called Utah home.
  • You don’t have to be a “creative class” city to be an Inc hotspot. In 2004, Richard Florida, a professor at the University of Toronto, published his Creativity Index as an attempt to rank the most creative cities, which he also expected to be the most innovative. While there is some overlap between the two lists (San Francisco, Boston, San Diego and Austin rank highly on both), some allegedly uncreative cities-;among them Salt Lake City, Indianapolis, Raleigh, Denver, and Buffalo--are barnburners on the Inc list.

For more detail, check out this neat interactive map on the Kauffman web site.

Last updated: Oct 4, 2012

KIMBERLY WEISUL is editor-at-large at Inc. and co-founder of One Thing New, the digital media startup that is rebooting women's content. She was previously a senior editor at BusinessWeek.
@weisul




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