I’m a Jersey boy who spent both college and the bulk of my career in New York City, yet I’m writing this post from my office in downtown Lincoln, Nebraska. How I got here is simple – the Midwest’s Silicon Prairie is a great place to build a business.
Every region has a lot to offer, so little to no competition., When founding Travefy with a friend who grew up out here, it was a no brainer that we had our best shot of survival as a part of Silicon Prairie’s exciting and growing ecosystem. This region – whose definition is fluid — includes Nebraska, Iowa, & Kansas.
There are a lot of great emerging regions out there like Silicon Prairie that exhibit all of the trends that could mean an explosion in entrepreneurial activity.
1. A growing bench of talent
There’s a reason Silicon Valley’s venture funds all reside on Sand Hill Road, walking distance to Stanford University – innovation and education go hand in hand. A key factor in any ecosystem is access to talent, which the region’s many universities provide.
We literally sit a few hundred yards from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s campus providing a deep bench of technical talent.
2. Emerging support systems
Building a company is a daunting task for anyone, especially a first time entrepreneur. As such, concrete support structures and a culture of innovation are essential for success.
Although there’s a catch 22 with building support systems and entrepreneurial demand, Silicon Prairie has benefited with both growing in tandem. This ranges from emerging accelerators like Nebraska’s Nmotion or Kansa City’s Sprint Accelerator (powered by TechStars) to fellowships like Pipeline and a bit a fortune like Google powering Kansas City as the first startup Fiberhood.
In 2007 Nebraska ranked 52nd in the U.S. in venture capital by state. This sparked an amazing turnaround of regional funding structures to tap potential resources that already existed. Nebraska, for instance, now offers Angel Investment tax credits and grants (free money!) for company development.
The outside capital is also there. Although Kansas, Iowa, and Nebraska rank 24, 28, and 29, respectively in per capita income, the resources for investment not only exist, they are abundant. Omaha, for instance, boasts the among the most billionaires and millionaires per capita of U.S. cities, driven by behemoths like Berkshire Hathaway, ConAgra Foods, Union Pacific, and others.
This means that increased entrepreneurial ability has been matched by increased Angel activity and emerging venture funds.
4. Scalable cost structures
A reasonable cost of living allows a region to scale quicker, and with more sustainable growth. In areas of Silicon Prairie like Kansas City, housing is 69% cheaper, on average, than San Francisco.
5. An echo chamber
No startup ecosystem is complete (or can survive) without a powerful echo chamber to help propel the messages of growing companies. Silicon Prairie has a big head start with The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation headquartered in Kansas City.
Nonetheless powerful dedicated media like Omaha’s Silicon Prairie News and their “Big” event series are literally amplifying the voice of the region’s entrepreneurs.
There is a lot more work to be done and this is just the beginning, but the Midwest’s Silicon Prairie is at an exciting moment.