What Makes A City Surge?
Inc.|December 2019
The best cities for new businesses in America aren’t always the ones you’d expect. Once again, Inc. and innovation policy company Startup Genome crunched the data to identify America’s hottest Surge Cities—and found there’s lots to learn from their successes.
Leigh Buchanan

Surge Cities, our second annual ranking of choice metro statistical areas for planting and growing companies, is ostensibly about places. But it’s really about people.

For entrepreneurs, what matters is whom you know—also how many you know, how well you know them, how willing they are to help you, and how far you have to go to meet for coffee.

Startup founders with high local connectedness—defined as quality relationships with about 25 other founders, eight investors, and 10 experts—double the revenue growth of those with low connectedness, says Startup Genome, the research and policy organization that is Inc.’s Surge Cities partner. The best way to develop those relationships is through “centers of gravity—places people can meet and build meaningful connections and continue to create value from them,” says Arnobio Morelix, Startup Genome’s chief innovation officer.

Now, cities vying for entrepreneurial parity with San Francisco, New York, and Boston are engineering their own centers of gravity. Commonly labeled innovation districts, these urban campuses pack in startups and mature companies alongside accelerators and co-working facilities; universities and medical centers; coffee shops, food trucks, outdoor spaces—you get the picture. The operating principle is density. Ideally, smart, creative people bounce off one another in serendipitous “creative collisions” that produce new ideas, relationships, and ventures.

There are roughly 20 substantive innovation districts in the U.S. and more than 100 on the rise worldwide, according to the Brookings Institution. To get an idea how they’re serving entrepreneurs, Inc. interviewed three dozen founders in 10 districts around the country. Although a few cited tax credits as the chief advantage (many innovation districts are in opportunity zones), the vast majority said their locations have helped them attract talent, forge partnerships, find early customers, and learn from peers. More developed districts like the St. Louis Cortex Innovation Community, the Chattanooga Innovation District in Tennessee, and Wake Forest’s Innovation Quarter in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, earned more love than smaller districts, but no founders regretted their locations.

“The momentum and collaboration over the past 10 years have been amazing to see,” says Heidi Jannenga, co-founder and CEO of WebPT, which develops office-management software for rehab therapists. WebPT was among the first startups in the PHX Core in Phoenix, which today is home to more than 130 companies and six million square feet of research and academic facilities. Like any relatively new district, PHX Core needs to get denser, says Jannenga, and a few more restaurants and other amenities wouldn’t hurt. “But what sets us apart” from places like Silicon Valley, she says, “is the generosity. Everyone here is pulling for one another.”

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

MORE STORIES FROM INC.View All

MICHAEL DUBIN HAS LEFT THE BUILDING

He said goodbye over Zoom to his billion-dollar idea, closed his laptop, and ... he was gone. So what’s the founder of DollarShave Club to do now that he’s already shaved the world?

10+ mins read
Inc.
May - June 2021

Making it in Mobile: 19 Years of Resilience in a Competitive Industry

Wireless industry solution provider Live Wireless shows what it takes to make it in a competitive industry: nimbleness, patience, and balance

2 mins read
Inc.
May - June 2021

Fighting Fire With Founders

Silicon Valley startups are taking aim at deadly wildfires. But saving lives will require cutting through red tape, fast.

10 mins read
Inc.
May - June 2021

David Neeleman Has No Fear Of Flying

The founder of JetBlue has overcome some crazy setbacks on his way to becoming the most successful serial airline entrepreneur in history. So why would he let a global pandemic get in the way of launching his latest carrier?

10+ mins read
Inc.
May - June 2021

You Grew It Alone. Now Can You Lead?

Nnenna Stella, founder of the fashion accessories brand the Wrap Life, talks staffing up with Lisa Price, founder of beauty brand Carol’s Daughter.

7 mins read
Inc.
May - June 2021

Find the Right People During the COVID-19 Era

Even before the pandemic, SMBs faced an uphill battle for the best talent. Here’s how technology and the right partners can help meet new challenges.

6 mins read
Inc.
May - June 2021

Is This a Business?

Marco Zappia, a former bar director in Minneapolis, has an idea for a cocktail commissary business.

2 mins read
Inc.
March - April 2021

How To Spy On Your Rivals

Inc. doesn’t recommend corporate espionage—but if you can get creative while staying on the right side of the law, go for it. That’s what John Ross, CEO of Test Prep Insight, was thinking when he heard that one of his competitors was meeting with a potential buyer. Ross—who was also contemplating a sale of his Sacramento-based online education company, wanted to get some intel on the buyer. But how?

1 min read
Inc.
March - April 2021

How Boring Benefits Can Pay Off

The pandemic, the grim economy, and the stress of remote work have made employees’ physical, mental, and financial well-being more important than ever. At the same time, bosses are trying to meet their employees’ needs on a tighter budget. One solution? Voluntary benefits.

3 mins read
Inc.
March - April 2021

Cybercriminals Target SMBs, But New Technology Helps Fight Them Off

Contrary to popular belief, big companies are not the only favored targets of cybercriminals. SMBs are just as attractive.

2 mins read
Inc.
March - April 2021
RELATED STORIES

Bridging the Endowment Wealth Gap

A new venture fund aims to help HBCUs get in on promising startups

5 mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
May 31 - June 07, 2021 (Double Issue)

Confessions of an Overnight Millionaire

“I constantly ask myself, Do I deserve this money?”

10+ mins read
New York magazine
April 12-25, 2021

How Small Businesses Can Solve Big Problems

Entrepreneurs are a big-thinking bunch—but how can startups help tackle the world’s largest issues? Planet FWD’s Julia Collins has an answer: Start small.

9 mins read
Entrepreneur
March 2021

How to Take Down Goliath

The biggest companies can still be taken down by the smallest startups. Here are four strategies disruptors use to fight their way up.

5 mins read
Entrepreneur
January - February 2021

What Makes Peloton, Apple, Netflix, and Tesla Successful?

They’re not just smart companies. They’re vertically integrated companies—and it’s a strategy even small startups can consider.

5 mins read
Entrepreneur
December 2020

How Not to Get Disrupted

Disruption sounds sexy...until you’re the one getting toppled. Here’s what it takes to stay on top.

5 mins read
Entrepreneur
October - November 2020

5 Questions Every Founder Must Ask

How to know whether the sacrifice is worth it.

3 mins read
Entrepreneur
October - November 2020

Can The Black Market Be Stopped?

The biggest threat to marijuana startups isn’t coming from the legal competition. It’s coming from the illegal market, which thrives even in states that have legalized weed. To extinguish the threat, licensed dealers might have to work together.

10 mins read
Entrepreneur
March 2020

Garbage Language

Why do corporations speak the way they do?

10+ mins read
New York magazine
February 17 - March 1, 2020

11 Ways To Shake Things Up

Are you living an adventure-starved life?

5 mins read
The Best of Times
February 2020