by Kelsey Meyer
There’s a lot more to Las Vegas than the Strip. This is what I discovered on my first trip to Sin City, where I was welcomed with open arms by the Vegas Tech community. Since Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, decided to move company headquarters to downtown Vegas and invest $350 million of his own money in revitalizing the downtown community, it has become a prime place for the tech community to gather. This made me consider other communities outside the Valley that are budding with tech startups.
Here’s a short list of cities that impress me, and the companies making them so impressive:
Vegas must come first because I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a not-so-secret crush on the tech community there. People are not just starting companies in Vegas; they are actively moving there to launch them. From Utah to the UK, I spoke with entrepreneurs who decided Vegas was the perfect place to start their companies.
Thomas Knoll is the co-founder of clippPR, a software company that creates a very simple way for brands to keep track of their press and interact with those talking about them. Thomas was ultimately the reason we delved into the Vegas Tech community. When I asked Thomas why he chose Vegas, he gave a candid response. “In the Bay Area, when people ask, ‘How can I help you?’ they mean, ‘What is the easiest thing I can do so you will help me in some way?’ In Vegas, when people ask it, they genuinely mean, ‘How can I help your company succeed?’”
This exact sentiment was reiterated by another Vegas startup, Ticket Cake. Jacqueline Jensen, the co-founder of the event management technology company focused on enabling professional event organizers to sell more tickets online, said that one reason her team moved from Utah to Vegas was that the community was supportive. She said, “We received more feedback in our week-long visit with the Vegas tech community than we had in our 13 months in Utah.”
Companies are traveling from even further than Utah to make Vegas home. Andrew Crump, co-founder of Bluefields, an app that solves problems for sports organizers, told me that they’re starting a new office in Vegas. The UK is still home for them, but they are impressed with the Vegas tech community and view the downtown project as a way to be part of something bigger than themselves and their company. That’s what all entrepreneurs want, right?
It’s not just the extreme sense of community that makes Vegas amazing. It has top-notch talent, too. Tom Ellingson, co-founder and CEO of Fandeavor, a company that creates fan experiences for a suite of sporting events, told me that it was the creative and technical talent, as well as the amazing advisors, that made them choose Vegas to launch their company.
Most of the companies I spoke with have started within the last two years, and that’s what makes the Vegas tech community so special. As Porter Haney, co-founder of Wedgies, puts it, “The community and companies are growing hand-in-hand.” Porter pointed out that this community makes for a unique environment in which everyone is supportive, rather than competitive. It’s true – I learned about these inspiring Vegas startups because Thomas Knoll was bragging about them!
Now that my love letter to the Vegas tech community is over, I’ll let you know about a few other cities that are impressive – and can look forward to seeing me soon.
Centrally located in what has been named the Silicon Prairie, Kansas City is doing amazing things for tech startups. Between the Kauffman Foundation and this little thing called Google Fiber, I anticipate this community will grow astronomically in the next 12 months.
One company I’ve heard recently making moves in KC is Claims Made Easy. This company does just what their name describes: they work with homeowners, agents, adjusters, and contractors to simplify the claims process.
KC is making it easy for other startups to take off like Claims Made Easy has by hosting Startup Weekend and Big KC, two events that truly work to promote entrepreneurship in the city.
I’m visiting the Memphis startup community in February for the Everywhere Else Conference, put on by the wonderful people at Nibletz. This conference is centered on promoting and educating startups from everywhere besides San Francisco.
I spoke with Elizabeth Lemmonds, Chief Brand Officer at Launch Your City, and she shared a wealth of information on the Memphis tech community. Memphis has accelerators like Seed Hatchery, daylong bootcamps for entrepreneurs, and Venture Mentors. The city’s also looking into a logistics accelerator.
Austin, most commonly known in the tech community for SXSW, is not just a music hub anymore. Entrepreneurs are flocking to Austin for the amazing community and resources, including an abundance of creative talent.
I spoke with Lee Brenner, co-founder of Heyride, a real-time ride sharing app in Austin, and he mentioned that a big draw to Austin is the large amount of investment firms, creative talent, and the tight-knit community. I’ll be attending SXSW in March, so I look forward to delving deeper into the startup community there.
This list would not be complete without a shout-out to my company’s hometown, Columbia, MO, but at risk of being too promotional, I’ll just mention my newest favorite Columbia startup, The Remarkables. Led by Emily Holdman, The Remarkables is a new venture utilizing video streaming technology to connect remarkable people with communities around the world for live interviews and enriching continuing education opportunities, while lowering traditional barriers to access.
If you live in any of these cities or another outside of Silicon Valley, I’d love to hear about your startup community! For good measure, I thought I would utilize a service from one of the budding startups mentioned in this article. Below, you’ll find a “Wedgie” – a real-time polling platform that’s embeddable in tweets, Facebook posts, or publications. I’d love your input on my first Wedgie question!
Kelsey Meyer is the President of Digital Talent Agents, an agency that specializes in building individuals’ and companies’ credibility through thought leadership and content marketing. Kelsey is passionate about startup communities and women in entrepreneurship. You can connect with her on Twitter @Kelsey_M_Meyer or on Google+.