Best Places to Live

2016 Best Cities for Entrepreneurs

What makes a city a great place for entrepreneurs? To be way too broad: A lot of things. And a lot of different things than we normally look at when deciding our top 10s and top 100s. We know that you can never totally separate a place into where you live and work, but usually our rankings tilt toward the quality-of-life side of things.

When Entrepreneur magazine came to us, asking if we could assist them in finding the 50 Best Cities for Entrepreneurs, we consulted our friends at our economic development team at Livability. We talked about how great places to live attract great people and attract the businesses that want to hire them. All of these things are inarguably related. We dipped into our database and pulled out both economic indicators and quality of life indicators to create a ranking of great places to start a business -- in places workers will want to live.

We analyzed 17 economic indicators for more than 2,200 cities with populations greater than 20,000. These included: the growth in businesses and employees from 2011-2015; the city's unemployment rate; the number of venture capital deals in the past 10 years; the city's business tax rate; how much funding business owners received from SBA and 7(a) loans; the percentage of college-educated locals; the accessibility to high-speed broadband; projected household income growth between 2015-2020; and how much money residents spend within their community, as opposed to outside of it.

Of course, we also included our LivScore (which measures livability, see the full methodology for each city). That score is the distillation of 45 factors including further economic measures as well as amenities, demographics, infrastructure and more. Together this becomes more than just a business list. It factors in both sides of the coin. These are 50 great cities to start a business, and to live in while it grows and thrives.

  • 1

    Boulder, CO

    Population: 103,919
    Photo: Glenn Asakawa/University of Colorado

    There’s no better way to describe Boulder than to say it is the perfect storm for entrepreneurial success. Thanks in large part to the University of Colorado’s presence, there’s a culture of innovation, here, unlike anywhere else. Combine that with all the support of small business efforts (the Boulder SBDC, the Economic Vitality Program, etc.), and you have our 2016 Best City for Entrepreneurs.

    Business Growth (2011-2015): 14%

    Employment Growth (2011-2015): 18%

  • 2

    Austin , TX

    Population: 887,061
    Katie Haugland via Flickr

    Through the years, Austin has been on the top of many lists for the best places to start a business; and it’s easy to see why. Like Boulder, it’s home to a large university (the University of Texas, and its McCombs School of Business), which breeds that previously mentioned culture of innovation. Then there are the large corporations that employ thousands (3M, Apple, Google, etc.), all of whom may require the benefit of a small business or two, and you’ve got some of the most recognizable startups out there: LegalZoom,, and more.

    Business Growth (2011-2015): 14%

    Employment Growth (2011-2015): 16%

  • 3

    Provo, UT

    Population: 115,345

    Just south of Salt Lake City is Provo, a college town built around Brigham Young University. But Provo is so much more than that. With a highly educated workforce, this growing technology center is a prime spot for entrepreneurs--particularly those who love the outdoors. Did we also mention it's one of the 10 Most Affordable Cities in America 2016?

    Business Growth (2011-2015): 13%

    Employment Growth (2011-2015): 21%

  • 4

    Charlottesville, VA

    Population: 45,084
    Court Square in Charlottesville, VA.

    Courtesy of Bob Mical under a CC 4.0 license.

    The Innovation Laboratory on the University of Virginia (UVA) campus plays a big role in the entrepreneurial success of Charlottesville. UVA alumni founded startups like Lending Tree and Reddit. Organizations like Community Investment Collaborative and the Charlottesville Business Innovation Council also assist business development throughout the city. Named one of our 100 Best Places to Live in 2016, Charlottesville offers business owners far more than just an excellent startup environment.

    Business Growth (2011-2015): 5%

    Employment Growth (2011-2015): 10%

  • The Center for Entrepreneurial Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has a commitment to developing the skills of entrepreneurs through the university’s global network of alumni mentors. UNC ranks among the top 50 universities in the world for granting patents. Chapel Hill is also the home for an independent startup initiative called Launch Chapel Hill.

    Business Growth (2011-2015): 15%

    Employment Growth (2011-2015): 87%

  • Entrepreneurs looking for advice have many choices here. For example, Ann Arbor SPARK is the city’s economic development department that hosts an annual Spring Entrepreneurial Boot Camp and a Fall Entrepreneurial Boot Camp. Meanwhile, a Center for Entrepreneurship is in place at the University of Michigan’s College of Engineering. But what's the quality of life like in Ann Arbor? Let's just say it has made our 100 Best Places to Live list three years in a row, now.

    Business Growth (2011-2015): 13%

    Employment Growth (2011-2015): 12%

  • 7

    Fargo, ND

    Population: 113,464
    Jeff Adkins

    Founded in 2013, Emerging Prairie is a startup designed to connect the entrepreneurial network in Fargo-Moorhead, while the Fargo Morehead West Fargo Chamber of Commerce sponsors an annual Young Entrepreneurs Academy (YEA!) that meets weekly from October through May. Also in Fargo is North Dakota State University, a leading research university in the country. Being a college town, it might explain why Fargo is also one of the 99 Best Cities for Beer in the US.

    Business Growth (2011-2015): 20%

    Employment Growth (2011-2015): 7%

  • 8

    Columbia, MO

    Population: 115,391
    Kevin Young

    1 Million Cups is a weekly event for local entrepreneurs to meet and present their startups to a peer network of small business founders in Columbia, with the morning get-togethers occurring at The Innovation Hub in the Downtown Incubator building. Also available is a Columbia  Entrepreneur Network on LinkedIn, and the University of Missouri offers an Entrepreneurship Alliance at its College of Business.

    Business Growth (2011-2015): 24%

    Employment Growth (2011-2015): 19%

  • 9

    Fredericksburg, VA

    Population: 27,395
    Photo courtesy of City of Fredericksburg

    You’ve come to the right city if you’re an entrepreneur looking to advance your idea or company. Entities in place to assist startups include Fredxchange, the Fredericksburg Economic Development Authority, UP Fredericksburg, and’s resources for Fredericksburg entrepreneurs.

    Business Growth (2011-2015): 7%

    Employment Growth (2011-2015): 7%

  • 10

    State College, PA

    Population: 42,129

    Courtesy of Penn State under a CC 2.0 license.

    Available to entrepreneurs in the State College region are organizations like the Centre Region Entrepreneur Network and the New Leaf Initiative. In addition, Penn State University has startup assistance offerings such as TechCelerator @ State College and Lion Launch Pad.

    Business Growth (2011-2015): 18%

    Employment Growth (2011-2015): 14%