Silicon Valley remains America’s innovation hub, with cities like New York, Houston, and Los Angeles following closely in its wake. But other cities in the U.S. and around the world are emerging as hotbeds of innovation and entrepreneurship. I was surprised when I compiled this list, and I think that some of these startup-friendly cities will surprise you as well!

1. Stockholm, Sweden

Dozens of online businesses and startups–including streaming heavy-hitter Spotify–call Stockholm home. As Inc.com reported, it’s the second-most prolific tech area in the world after Silicon Valley itself. With an increasingly strong VC presence, and a workforce brought up in the tech-friendly Swedish education system, Stockholm is in a unique position to grow as a startup haven.

2. Charlotte, NC

As one of the fastest-growing cities in the United States, Charlotte has developed a thriving startup ecosystem. The city is full of new initiatives and infrastructure designed to support entrepreneurs. Packard Place provides space, training, and networking opportunities for entrepreneurs, while Queen City Forward supports businesses engaged in positive social change. Charlotte is emerging as a singularly supportive place to grow a new business.

3. Columbus, OH

Columbus boasts a low cost of living and a government office that exists specifically to liaise between small businesses and local officials. But beyond those entrepreneur-friendly elements, it’s also got an energy that seasoned venture capitalist Mark Kvamme says reminds him of the early days of Silicon Valley. "I started seeing really cool companies, great entrepreneurs, and great opportunities," he says. With the likes of Inc. 5000 company CoverMyMeds calling the Columbus area home, the city is quickly becoming one of the U.S.’s leading startup ecosystems.

4. Atlanta, GA

Beyond having a thriving startup community, Atlanta is also home to resources and organizations that are working to make it easier for black entrepreneurs to get a foothold in the startup world. Atlanta’s historically black Morehouse College, for instance, offers a certification in Angel Investing (the first of its kind at a historically black college), while Opportunity Hub offers co-working spaces and mentorship and training with the aim of bringing greater diversity to America’s startup world. As my fellow Inc. columnist, Eric Holtzclaw reports, Atlanta’s proximity to institutions of higher education and Fortune 500 headquarters, as well as the volume of young entrepreneurs and incubators and accelerators in the city make it the perfect place to launch a new idea.

While Silicon Valley might seem like the natural spot to launch your startup, it’s not the only place where you can find support and success. When you’re considering where to start your business, don’t overlook smaller cities. Take into account proximity to other startups and companies, but don’t forget that cities like Atlanta, Charlotte, and others that are home to universities that offer access to innovative thinkers, and a young energetic workforce. Look for cities whose governments understand the benefits of welcoming entrepreneurs, and offer perks, resources, and support.

Published on: Sep 10, 2015