Lucy Beard, founder of Feetz, started her 3D printed shoe company in the heart of startup culture--Silicon Valley. Media and potential customers contacted her early and often.
What was missing was access to manufacturing knowledge. "We quickly realized that we couldn't reinvent consumer manufacturing in the Valley. What I was trying to do didn't fit the mold, if you'll pardon the pun," she says.
With hundreds of potential customers eager to buy, she looked for a more hospitable environment to build out an entirely new custom manufacturing approach. She learned about Launch Tennessee, a public-private initiative in Tennessee that has nine specific startup accelerators, including one on 3D printing.
Charlie Brock, CEO of Launch Tennessee, says, "It is an exciting time to be an entrepreneur in Tennessee. Hundreds, if not thousands of us, are working every day to make our state the place where talented entrepreneurs want to be--and where investors come to find the next big thing."
Lucy thought so too--she moved to Chattanooga. She recently closed on a $1.3M round and was featured in the Wall Street Journal. "In a few weeks, our app will be public and then we'll have the world's first custom footwear 3D printing manufacturing line--and it's all in Chattanooga," she said.
Here are some reasons to choose a smaller city for your startup:
1) Centers of Excellence
To compete, smaller cities often select a specific area of interest. Charlotte is a magnet for financial institutions and the second largest financial capital in the US.
In January of 2014, Bank of America backed Packard Place, an incubator focused specifically on the financial sector. Since that time, Packard Place has acquired new sponsors and this spring marks its fourth class of financially focused startups.
2) Local Practices
Blue Ridge Food Ventures outside of Asheville, NC is a food-based incubator that taps into the culture and local interests of the area including "wildcrafting", the practice of harvesting plants from their natural, or "wild" habitat, for food or medicinal purposes. Blue Ridge Food Ventures provides entrepreneurs with access to equipment and knowledge to turn wildcrafting practices into commercially viable products.
3) Cheaper Rent
LaunchHouse in Cleveland, OH negotiated "free rent" from the city for use of an auto dealership that was scheduled to be demolished to make way for a storage facility. The founders, Todd Goldstein and Dar Caldwell, convinced the city to renovate the building instead and allow them to use it rent-free for a period of time to create a co-working and startup incubator space. LaunchHouse provides an economic boost to the city of Shaker Heights where it is located.
4) Available Workforce
Greg Jordan, CEO at Graph Story, a nine month old startup that creates graph databases on demand for enterprise clients like Nissan is in Memphis.
"In places like the Valley, competition for the best talent is tough--especially when you have companies like Facebook or Google in your backyard. Here, we have become the destination point for tech talent within a significant radius."
5) Be A Bigger Deal
As an entrepreneur you want your company to make a difference. The ability to impact the local community is an important part of the journey.
Jordan continues, "In the Valley, Austin or Boston," he says, "it's an echo chamber--there's a lot of noise. When you are in a nontraditional tech area like we are, you get to make all the noise." Working in a smaller city, your company is the beacon to leading others into areas of untapped potential.
6) Access to Executive Talent
I spend quite a bit of time in Charleston, SC and often meet successful entrepreneurs who are moving back from places like San Francisco, Los Angeles and Atlanta to find a better work/life balance. These individuals have run very successful companies and bring with them a wealth of knowledge, connections and financial resources.
Steve Warner with Charleston Regional Development Alliance shared, "There's an interesting dynamic to the start-up scene here in Charleston. Momentum is building rapidly, and the growth is increasingly being driven by serial entrepreneurs and other really smart people looking for both a change of lifestyle and a change of pace. What they find in Charleston is an awesome quality of life, a supportive tech ecosystem, and a very approachable community. We're building something unique here, and experienced entrepreneurs want to be a part of it. "
7) Develop Stronger Connections
In a large city like Atlanta, it's hard to meet everyone. I attend one networking event a week as a way to make new connections and in attempt to keep up with the latest changes with individuals and companies.
When I hang out in smaller cities like Nashville, Chattanooga or Charleston, it's very easy to make the rounds and find connections to the people or information I might need. The relationships between the individuals are so strong in these smaller communities that they can (and are willing to) pick up the phone or send an email to help you find what you need.
The creation of a startup takes an intense amount of focus. Moving to a smaller city where the distractions drop away can help you find your voice and create something unique. Zingerman's Deli, for example, is a $50M business--not a startup any longer. Its position at the heart of the Ann Arbor food scene has allowed this privately held food empire to define its brand. For a large part of the Michigan community, Zingerman's defines deli.