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USA beyond San Francisco

Sep 17, 2018

Another post on the United States? Yes! It has the world’s top-ranked startup ecosystems for funding and talent, it’s language and culture are accessible for Australians, and it’s an enormous market. For those reasons many of us glean insights from US or look to it as our pathway to a big exit.

And, there is a United States beyond Silicon Valley and the tech industry bubble. I’ve visited every couple of years: from a self-funded trip in 2010 researching coworking spaces to a recent IVLP scholarship visiting cities from Washington to Austin with people from 22 other nations.

This post shares a few recommendations if you are looking to grow or learn from the US. And, consider joining at Morning Startup this Wednesday for a discussion of further insights.

Is the USA similar to Australia, just bigger?

Not really. Think of the US as being like Europe or Africa: each state as independent with their own culture and economy. The population is also differently distributed: Perth would be the United States 5th largest city, but there are around 125 cities with a population of more than 200,000 spread evenly across the country. Cities within States also differ: Austin and San Antonio are adjacent in Texas but one is a conservative ‘military city’ while the other’s motto is ‘Keep Austin weird’.

Why look beyond Silicon Valley?

Because it doesn’t exist. It’s not a suburb or a place, you can’t find it on a map, so what are you looking for? Capital, talent, access to markets, mentors, university partnerships, manufacturing expertise, industry clusters are all present in other locations.

While the Bay Area has a phenomenal combination of mindset, talent density, capital intensity and for enterprise sales and marketing, it’s also definitively competitive and arguably overheated. So relax, focus on what you need and want, and let your obsession with Mountain View loosen.

There are many other locations with more in common with our economy, industries and culture and who are actively seeking more international, entrepreneurial connections. Other Australian startups and incubators have planted their flags in diverse cities: Unearthed run programs in Houston and Las Vegas, Core dna chose Boston, Ansarada are growing out of Chicago and LiveTiles chose New York, Safety Culture left SF but stayed in Kansas City.

What are examples of specific cities?

I recommend you do your own research or seek advice from your friendly incubator, public servant or networks: AusTrade, Entrepreneurs Program, WA Trade Offices, US Consulate, University Alumni offices, accelerator programs all have some interest or role in making international connections. Ask them.

And, here are two examples to get you thinking:


Birthplace of Dell and hosting Google, Apple and others major offices. Austin ventures closed 213 deals last year and I think more of a B2B focus than the Bay Area. It’s friendly, open and it’s liveability making it a good place to find talent and lunch into. Time a visit to coincide with South by South West, or avoid it because it’s the best and worst time to have meetings. Check out Founders Institute ecosystem map, Capital Factory as the Texan startup ‘centre of gravity’.

Capital Factory, Austin
Capital Factory, Austin


Capital of Illinois which is home to an incredible number of agriculture, manufacturing, mining and financial services company headquarters: John Deer, Caterpillar etc. Economically representative of the whole US economy, large (world’s 23rd largest economy), does billions of dollars of business with Australia, we have a consular office there: a great place to test and enter the market. Built In Chicago is a great introduction to the ecosystem.

I could go on about Philadelphia, Denver, Los Angeles, Portland and Silicon Florist, Sacramento's AgTech ecosystem, comment on other’s top ten cities or encourage you to look up Chattanooga,…but I repeat my recommendation:

  • Clarify you needs,
  • Reach out to seek advice,
  • Look beyond San Francisco

And, a final thought, also consider the rest of the world for potential expansion or where to look for lessons: Nigeria and Indonesia have the equivalent of the US population, Mongolia is not so different from the WA economy and the Scandinavians are so smart with ‘expanding to Sweden’ having such a nice ring to it : )