28 Nov Does location matter anymore?
Pundits and marketers have been hyping “any time, anywhere” computing for years, but a popular perception remains that if you are starting a technology company, “anywhere” needs to be spittin’ distance to one of the nation’s technology centers: Silicon Valley, Seattle or Boston. You might get away setting up shop in Austin, Atlanta, New York or Chicago – but beyond that, well, there is no beyond that.
The bias is purely political. The infrastructure to support technology development – broadband connectivity and plenty of caffeine – is available almost anywhere. Modern transportation – both physical and digital – can put an aspiring entrepreneur in front of potential investors, partners, and customers in short order. But despite the “I can work from anywhere” mantra, the vast majority of tech start-ups start up in the nation’s concentrated IT communities.
At least that’s the way it used to be.
In the last 12 months – if would-be DEMO conference demonstrators are a leading indicator – an increasing number of early-stage ventures are putting down stakes in geographies that offer a balanced lifestyle, a lower cost of living, tax advantages, or simply proximity to family and friends. At September’s DEMOfall event, companies hailed from Michigan, Minnesota, Indiana, Kansas, Connecticut, Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Utah and Oregon. And while the majority of entrepreneurs drove cars with California license plates, a growing number of these were registered in locales a considerable drive from Silicon Valley.
One of those companies, YackPack, set up camp in Santa Rosa, about two hours north of Silicon Valley. Founder B.J. Fogg told me that it was tough to lure engineers to Sonoma County, but once they had a look around they were happy to settle down and stay awhile.
In recent weeks I’ve talked to companies from Texas, Alabama, Arizona, Florida, D.C., Maine, Colorado, Missouri, New Jersey, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Utah and Virginia, among other decidedly non-tech-centric regions. Yet the engineering and product management that hails from these hinterlands is every bit as intriguing as the work being done in the tech centers we know and love. Indeed, some of these companies have a real competitive advantage, not just because they can make a start-up dollar go a lot further, but because they are living, working and testing products among “real” people who are a lot more skeptical about technology than those of us who believe Fry’s Electronics is an exciting weekend destination.
While there will always be a need for casual communities of like-minded professionals, the distribution of technology companies will continue to spread as the Anytime, Anywhere promise is fulfilled. Physical communities – that chance meeting at kid’s school or the corner Starbucks – are valuable, certainly. But they are ably supplemented by virtual global communities of developers, customers, entrepreneurs, investors and service providers. And these virtual communities work.
Over Thanksgiving week I hosted more than a dozen phone briefings with companies across the U.S., Canada, and in Europe. All the while, I was in Pittsburgh sitting on the WiFi network I’d installed in my mother’s home. That I was in a region better known for deer hunting than disc drives was of no consequence to these calls. We got the job done as effectively as if we were in a conference room in San Francisco.
For people accustomed to working from anywhere, this modest migration away from tech centers may seem like no big deal. But it is most certainly a very big deal to the smaller communities that benefit from the influx and impact of smart technology entrepreneurs. Indeed, this is a trend that ought to be encouraged on a national scale as a means of spreading economic and educational advantage beyond urban centers.
Let’s hope this is one of the great next trends spotted at DEMO.
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