Richard Florida is a co-founder and editor at large of CityLab and a senior editor at The Atlantic. He is a university professor in the University of Toronto’s School of Cities and Rotman School of Management, and a distinguished fellow at New York University’s Schack Institute of Real Estate.
For all the talk of the “rise of the rest,” investment in high-tech startups is clustered in the Bay Area, and the New York- Boston-Washington Corridor.
When it comes to high-tech startups, we hear a lot about the so-called “rise of the rest.” As the nation’s leading centers of high-tech industry—places like the San Francisco Bay Area, New York City, Boston, and Seattle—have become increasingly expensive to live in, the argument goes, talented techies, entrepreneurs, and startups are moving to less expensive places like Portland, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Nashville, Las Vegas, and others.
But to what extent is this actually the case? Are these new startup hubs attracting significant levels of venture capital investment or is the geography of high-tech startups just as concentrated as ever?
To get at this, with the help of my Martin Prosperity Institute (MPI) colleagues, I decided to take a look at the most recent data on where high-tech startups actually are. We used data from Pitchbook (available via the National Venture Capital Association) on the geography of venture capital investment in high-tech startups for more than 200 U.S. metros for 2016. Venture capital investment provides perhaps the best gauge of the actual economic value of high-tech startup activity in a given place as it indicates how highly those startups are valued by the market. The MPI’s Karen King organized and analyzed the data, and Taylor Blake made the maps.
The key takeaway: The geography of high-tech startups remains extremely concentrated and unequal, with the Bay Area and the Boston-New York-Washington Corridor accounting for roughly two thirds of all venture capital-backed investment across the United States.
Take a look at the map below: The largest dots show major hubs of venture capital investment in the Bay Area, the Acela Corridor stretching from Boston to New York and Washington, D.C., and Greater Los Angeles.
The table below lists the top twenty metros for investment in venture capital-backed startups. San Francisco tops the list with $23 billion, more than a third of the national total. New York is second with $7.5 billion or 11 percent. Three additional metros took in more than $5 billion: San Jose, in the heart of Silicon Valley, with $6.7 billion or nearly 10 percent; Boston-Cambridge with $6 billion, also right around 10 percent; and LA with $5.5 billion or 8 percent. San Diego netted $1.5 billion and there are four additional metros with a billion or more in venture capital investment: Seattle, Miami, Chicago and DC; Austin is close with $977 million.
|Metro||Venture Capital Investment (in millions)||Share of U.S. Total|
|San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA||$23,401||34.13%|
|New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA||$7,565||11.03%|
|San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA||$6,718||9.8%|
|Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana, CA||$5,446||7.94%|
|San Diego-Carlsbad, CA||$1,549||2.26%|
|Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach, FL||$1,296||1.89%|
|Austin-Round Rock, TX||$977||1.43%|
|Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell, GA||$754||1.10%|
|Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX||$678||0.99%|
|Salt Lake City, UT||$633||0.92%|
|Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN-WI||$491||0.72%|
|Durham-Chapel Hill, NC||$351||0.51%|
There are very few surprises among the rest of the top twenty, which includes Philadelphia, Atlanta, Dallas, Salt Lake City and Provo, Denver, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Boulder, and Durham-Chapel Hill. Still, even these places took in just 0.5 percent to 1 percent of national venture capital investment each.
Aspiring tech hubs like Nashville ranked 22nd, Portland ranked 23rd, Pittsburgh 28th, Detroit 37th and Las Vegas, home of Tony Hsieh’s controversial Downtown Project, 38th. These places took in $100 million to $300 million each, which may be good compared to the past but still less than half a percent of the national total each.
|San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA||17.73%|
|New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA||11.97%|
|Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana, CA||6.70%|
|San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA||6.31%|
|San Diego-Carlsbad, CA||2.63%|
|Austin-Round Rock, TX||2.39%|
But, established tech hubs like San Francisco or New York may attract much bigger investments in a few uber-successful startups. Using data on investments in individual startup companies or venture capital deals can control for this to some extent. When we look at the percent of deals in each city, San Francisco remains on top with 18 percent of deals, followed by New York with 12 percent, Boston and Los Angeles with 6.7 percent, and San Jose with 6.3 percent.
It is interesting to see San Jose, the heart of Silicon Valley and America’s long-established high-tech leader, fall all the way to fifth place in venture capital deals. Seattle, Chicago, San Diego, Washington D.C., and Austin round out the top ten, with between 2 and 3 percent of all venture capital deals. Another ten or so metros have more than one percent of venture capital deals: Philadelphia, Dallas, Denver, Atlanta, Miami, Houston, Boulder, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Phoenix, and Pittsburgh
It’s also the case that larger metros are likely to have more venture capital investment and deals simply because they have more people. So, the next map displays venture capital investment per person, to account for the size of a metro’s population. This map illustrates a somewhat different picture.
Big dots remain in the Bay Area and Boston, but there are also bigger dots in places across the country we did not see before. These include smaller tech hubs and college towns, which can be seen in the table below that lists the top 20 metros based on venture capital investment per person.
|Metro||Venture Capital Investment per Capita*|
|San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA||$5,001|
|San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA||$3,395|
|Santa Maria-Santa Barbara, CA||$755|
|Durham-Chapel Hill, NC||$628|
|Salt Lake City, UT||$533|
|Austin-Round Rock, TX||$475|
|San Diego-Carlsbad, CA||$467|
|Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA||$409|
|New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA||$375|
|Santa Cruz-Watsonville, CA||$299|
|San Luis Obispo-Paso Robles-Arroyo Grande, CA||$251|
|Santa Rosa, CA||$244|
|New Haven-Milford, CT||$234|
|Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach, FL||$213|
The Bay Area again tops the list, with San Francisco in first place with roughly $5,000 in venture capital investment per person and San Jose in second with about $3,400. The long-established tech-hub of Boston-Cambridge is third with $1,200. On a pound for pound basis, tiny Boulder is a significant tech hub: It is close behind in fourth with $1,100 in venture capital investment per person. So are Provo, Santa Barbara, Durham-Chapel Hill, and Salt Lake City. And smaller places like Santa Cruz, San Luis Obispo, and Santa Rosa in California; Manchester, New Hampshire; and Madison, Wisconsin also rank among the top 20 venture capital hubs on this score. Bigger metros like Los Angeles, New York and Seattle now fall further down the list. Washington, D.C. falls all the way down to 24th place and Chicago to 34th.
Aspiring tech hubs like Nashville (27th), Pittsburgh (42nd), Las Vegas (57th), and Detroit (90th), again end up much further down the list.
High tech in America remains geographically concentrated and unequal. The Bay Area remains far and away the nation’s and the world’s leading center for high-tech venture investment, raking in $30 billion or nearly 45 percent. While good historical data on venture capital investment is scarce, one time series put together by PWC for the National Venture Capital Association (and using different from the data used here) shows that the Bay Area actually increased its share of venture capital investment from 22 percent in 1995 to 46 percent in 2015. The only other place to see its share increase was New York, which grew from just 3 percent in 1995 to more than 12 percent today. Today, just the top five metros—San Francisco, San Jose, New York, Boston and LA—account for more than 70 percent of venture capital investment across the United States.
Places like Pittsburgh, Portland, and Nashville have more venture capital investment today than they had a decade or so ago, but they still account for a small fraction of national venture capital investment or startup deals. Boulder has emerged as a small, thriving tech hub, but it has long attracted high tech talent and investment anchored by the University of Colorado. Taken together, Salt Lake City and Provo make up a significant tech hub, raking in more than a billion dollars in venture capital investment. Miami is also high up the list, but its venture capital investment reflects one uber-successful tech startup, Magic Leap, though the region has seen its tech ecosystem develop based on sustained investments by the Knight Foundation.
No matter how you slice it, venture capital-backed high technology remains spiky, and if anything, it may be getting spikier.