I’m a three-time company founder, based in Atlanta, a city where I intentionally chose to start my companies, as opposed to some of the more popular startup hubs. After attending 36I86 in Nashville, a conference (named for its map coordinates) for Southeastern-based entrepreneurs and investors, I realized, again, why my choice was sound.
I also recognized, though, how little the world outside of this region knows about the Southeast as a self-contained but burgeoning startup hub.
Courtney Corlew, director of 36I86, explained it to me this way: “We started this conference in 2013 to celebrate the best in Southern entrepreneurship, investment and culture. It is a unique and efficient way for someone to get a glimpse of the business and cultural climate of the region. It is our hope that this event fosters more entrepreneurship throughout the Southeast.”
I next asked many of the company reps I met at 36I86: “Why did you decide to do business in this region?”
The consistent themes in their responses included Southern charm, hospitality and the region's spirit of collaboration. But, I wanted to know more. Diving deeper, I asked for, and received, compelling -- and business-related -- reasons why these startup folks now call the Southeast home:
1. Affordable talent and camaraderie
“The abundance of affordable talent and the mutually supportive atmosphere within the tech community: We really are all pulling for each other.” -- Jennifer Silverberg , CEO, SmartCommerce
2. Strong ecosystem
“We’re here because the Southeast makes sense. It has a great pool of talent (plus, people are flocking here from the rest of the country). The cost of living is very affordable. And we have direct flights to everywhere else on the planet. Why would we leave?” -- Shane Ballman, CEO at SynapseMX, Inc.
3. Budgets go further
“We can sell to customers and bring in investors from anywhere, but the Southeast has a much lower cost of living and allows us to stretch our budget much further.” -- Ryan Gaines, CFO / COO at Everly
“The Southeast was chosen as [our] headquarters location simply because of the people. Our growing team has added a Southern charm to day-to-day business that helps us stand out from the competition.” -- Emily Anderson, company cheerleader at mSIGNIA
5. Developer talent
“We are based in Durham, North Carolina, where we find so many talented developers. One of our developers actually moved from Silicon Valley to Durham, where the software development community is great and the cost of living is lower.” -- Jose-Ignacio Flores, CEO at SHIPEDGE
6. Public-private sector collaboration
“The Southeast has seen a powerful emergence of entrepreneurs in the sectors of clean energy, ag-tech, healthcare IT and other health and wellness areas. All of these sectors intertwine with the deep network of support from public and private entities, as well as the academic research institutions. Once a powerful startup community is in place, the infrastructure is in place to support budding talent and brave new entrepreneurs.” -- Michael Spinelli , Co-Founder of Nutriati, Inc.
7. Business-friendly local government
“The Southeast is very business-friendly, both from a political and tax perspective, as well as a culture that celebrates hard work and initiative.” -- Kris Kelso, CEO of Healthcare Blocks
8. Talent retention
“With the attractive cost of living, young adults can afford to buy a home and raise a family here, so it's a great place to retain talent.”-- Louise Wasilewski , CEO at Acivilate
9. Underestimated value
“The Southeast is perennially underestimated, but when you look around, you have access to talent, access to capital and access to markets. Running a business where there is a lower cost of living than [in Silicon] Valley, and [where] so many are driven to make a difference, makes it an easy choice.” -- Ali Khoshnevis, managing director of business development, Tesser Health
10. More efficiency with capital
“You can be more efficient with capital. The overall cost of living is lower in the Southeast, as compared to traditional tech regions. The efficiency can provide additional months of runway, which is great for both entrepreneurs and investors.”-- Greg Jordan, CEO, Graph Story
Not ready to move your own company to the Southeast, but interested in investing in one that is utilizing the strengths described here to grow a business?
Take it from Tyson Clark, partner at Google Ventures, who said he is targeting this region precisely because others are not: “Google Ventures is making an active effort to invest in places where we think most of the Silicon Valley VCs aren’t investing," Clark told me. "We think VCs in the Valley are probably missing opportunities, because this is far away from home. But not jumping on a plane to go to a board meeting isn’t a good enough reason not to invest in an awesome company.
"That’s why we are going outside the Silicon Valley, and we've come to the Southeast in particular, because there’s amazing engineering talent here and an amazing network of universities that provide great technical talent. There’s an incredible entrepreneurial culture here in the Southeast that we want to make sure we are taking advantage of.”