15 Unexpected Cities Perfect for Entrepreneurs
Sometimes being a big fish in a small pond can have huge benefits.
We all know and love the big business hubs across the country, but a host of small and mid-sized cities are unexpectedly wonderful for entrepreneurship. Sometimes being a big fish in a small pond, or at least a medium fish in a medium pond can have robust benefits. Those might include less competition for resources, more personal attention and other perks that smaller cities are better equipped to offer entrepreneurs and small business dreamers.
Here are 15 of our favorite unexpected cities that might make a great stop — or destination! — on your entrepreneurial journey.
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Home of Iowa State University, Ames offers entrepreneurs a wealth of resources in the community to tap, including ISU’s Pappajohn Center for Entrepreneurship and ISU’s Startup Factory, a 52-week intensive program. You can find even more resources in Ames, like its own seed capital fund, here.
Recently ranked the 27th best place to live in the United States, Bismarck is a rising Boomtown. Since 2020, The North Dakota Small Business Development Center has helped launch over 115 businesses and assisted entrepreneurs in securing $62 million in loans. To further support local businesses in Bismarck, and all over the state, the North Dakota Small Business Development Center has launched shopnd.com, an e-commerce site for local businesses in North Dakota.
A gorgeous river and mountain community, Chattanooga punches above its weight when it comes to supporting entrepreneurs. It’s home to the third-largest business incubator in the country and the largest in Tennessee. This incubator can support about 50 businesses at a time and puts each through a three-year development program that includes affordable space. 92% of program graduates are still in business 5 years later.
Other entities like The Company Lab, helping companies go from launch to scale and providing relevant classes and pitch competitions, and Proof, supporting food and beverage entrepreneurs, round out the ecosystem. Some local grants are available as well, like Idea Leap.
Cincinnati’s blooming business and creative hub is strengthened by the city’s diverse population and its innovative DEI approaches to grow and expand economic opportunities for all. Cincinnati is nationally recognized as a top city for startups and minority entrepreneurs and ranks No. 1 in the percentage of minority businesses with greater than $500,000 in annual revenues. New data compiled by the Over-the-Rhine Chamber in 2020 shows the number of Black and minority-owned businesses in OTR has increased by more than 75% over the past three years. The city is home to many helpful resources for entrepreneurial growth, including the Cincinnati Chamber’s Minority Business Accelerator (MBA), the startup accelerator for low-income urban entrepreneurs MORTAR and the Startup Cincy program.
Colorado Springs, CO
With such an innovative business climate, it’s no wonder this region has been dubbed ‘Silicon Mountain.’ Nestled in the beautiful Pikes Peak region near the Rocky Mountains, Colorado Springs boasts both beautiful scenery and plenty of entrepreneurial opportunity. Resources such as Startup Support Center and The Catalyst Campus For Technology & Innovation give young entrepreneurs in the Springs a running start by providing affordable and accessible entrepreneurial training and support programs, and every September the city hosts the Southern Colorado annual Startup Week which honors local entrepreneurs and those who are influencing Southern Colorado’s entrepreneurial community.
Fairfax County, VA
One of the nation’s leading tech hubs and a top metro for the veteran community, Fairfax County, Virginia is establishing itself as a top location for entrepreneurs with a special ability to foster businesses for the public good and the veteran community. Dynamic incubators like the Community Business Partnership’s Business Incubation Center and an array of venture capital, funding organizations and professional resources and events make Fairfax County a leading location for entrepreneurs and growing startups — exemplified by the small businesses which account for 90% of the Northern Virginia business ecosystem. Additionally, in a time when VC funding is declining across the globe, Northern Virginia has a unique geographic advantage as a D.C.-metro with VCs now taking a higher interest in military and security-related tech.
Through the Fargo, Moorhead, and West Fargo Chamber of Commerce, small business owners have access to resources like business training workshops and programs like the PUSH program, which helps women entrepreneurs build a support system through professional development and mentoring. And with the city of Fargo unveiling a new masterplan for downtown, riverfront redevelopment, small business owners and entrepreneurs can benefit from the city’s revitalization efforts through access to new mixed-use commercial spaces and a bustling downtown environment.
Houston’s startup ecosystem is booming and quickly climbing the ranks as a leading U.S. metro for startup formation and entrepreneurial success. This includes recognition as a top city for female entrepreneurs and notoriety as a fast-growing hotspot for tech talent too with a recent study finding Houston to be the third-fastest growing tech ecosystem for early-stage companies in the country.
In Jacksonville, local entrepreneurship isn’t just found, it’s cultivated. JAX Bridges is Northeast Florida’s most accessible and effective entrepreneurial development program, offering free 10-12-week programs to help SMEs build strategy, gain access to capital and contract opportunities, and network with other entrepreneurs to grow their businesses. The Jacksonville Women’s Business Center, dedicated to developing and supporting women business leaders and entrepreneurs, offers educational programs, networking opportunities and extensive resources to drive innovation and facilitate business growth. Likewise, the Lewis & White Business League provides a forum and opportunities for African American business owners and residents to take advantage of business and educational advancement tools, quarterly meetings with guest speakers, and networking and mentoring opportunities.
Most recently, Jacksonville welcomed a brand new Open Innovation Center established by the JAX Chamber as a hub for innovation, collaboration, and technology training for entrepreneurs from businesses and industries across Northeast Florida. An incubator for education, community, and entrepreneurial business opportunities, the Open Innovation Center is just the latest example of Jacksonville’s commitment to building its SMEs.
Kitsap County, WA
Kitsap County has invested substantially into grants, resources and incubators for entrepreneurs in the tech space, ranging from health tech to autonomous vehicles and more. Plus this affordable midsize city is just close enough to Seattle to tap into a giant tech ecosystem supported by Microsoft and Amazon. Kitsap County’s range of grants and incubators offer plenty of support for the serial entrepreneur and the novice small business dreamer.
The Muskegon Lakeshore region is home to a robust community of young entrepreneurs who have figured out the formula for success. While Muskegon’s affordable neighborhoods, incredible outdoor access and welcoming community make it a great place to put down roots, people have discovered it’s a great place to be a small business owner, too. The region hosts a number of incubators and accelerators — one unique accelerator is FARM (Food, Agriculture, Research and Manufacturing) which supports growth in the food processing sector. FARM offers individual suites in industrial spaces for entrepreneurs to take their new innovations and technologies to commercialization.
Seguin, Texas has an incredible downtown with an active Main Street program that brings tourists to the community. That support helps entrepreneurs who want a storefront to get customers fast. More than 80,000 people a year head to Seguin for events with over 12,000 people visiting downtown weekly. The South-West Texas Border Small Business Development Center (SBDC) Network’s 10 field offices offer small business support throughout the region.
As the home of Black Wall Street, entrepreneurship is built into the fabric of Tulsa. Through resources and programs like the Carmela Hill Legacy Fund, entrepreneurs and small business owners in the Tulsa area have access to grants and funding for their businesses. ACT Tulsa, a 5-month accelerator program, specifically offers a $70,000 investment and mentorship for Black and Brown founders. Through PartnerTulsa, entrepreneurs have access to The Small Business Enterprise Program, which offers support to small business owners through increased access to government contracts and funding.
Twin Cities, NE
Twin Cities, Nebraska’s incubator for food entrepreneurs makes this an excellent community to launch your food startup whether that’s a restaurant, catering business or small batch manufacturing. Commercial-grade space is affordably available for any length of time from a couple of hours to a week.
Winston-Salem’s historic past has been reimagined into a hub of innovation anchored by the Innovation Quarter, one of the fastest-growing urban innovation districts in the country. This destination for locals, entrepreneurs, visitors and everyone in between is home to more than 170 companies, including startups, educational institutions and advanced research labs powering tomorrow’s ideas. The life sciences thrive here, particularly in regenerative medicine.
Small businesses and startups thrive here with support from a full-stack entrepreneurial ecosystem. Organizations like Winston Starts, Flywheel, and the Center for Creative Economy support entrepreneurs through programming, mentorship and networking opportunities. And there’s capital too! The Winston-Salem Partners Roundtable Fund is an angel group with seed-level capital running from $100K to $300K and First Launch Capital Fund invests in the Carolina Core’s tech startups.