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The next Silicon Valley may not exist. Here’s what smaller hubs can do to attract VC dollars

May 27, 2022, 1:20 PM UTC
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Some regions are starting to reap the benefits of a concerted effort to grow their venture capital ecosystem by catering to the needs of entrepreneurs and investors.

For years, cities and regions across the U.S. have worked to become the “next Silicon Valley,” with plans to attract entrepreneurs and capital to transform themselves into the new leading innovation center.

Yet, EY’s analysis of publicly available data shows that the top 10 markets for venture capital (VC) investing have remained the same over the past decade. This lack of change speaks to the difficulty involved in building a regional powerhouse for venture investment and innovation.

Dethroning Silicon Valley may not be a realistic short-term goal. But there are still lessons that economic development groups and individual entrepreneurs can take away from Silicon Valley’s success.

Technology impacts every industry today. That means even legacy industries are ripe for innovation, and VC opportunities aren’t limited to Silicon Valley.

Economic development groups can build and sustain an ecosystem that attracts capital by fortifying and branding local industries that feature a broad base of existing companies and a strong workforce.

Understand your region’s strengths in attracting businesses and talent and identify ways to leverage them. What are the growth and innovation opportunities in your key industries, and what do startups need in the region? What can the city and region do to enhance the quality of life to attract skilled talent?

Be creative with the funding at your disposal, including federal, state, and local grants and programs that can be used to attract and support new companies. Promote your region as a destination for entrepreneurs and innovators in key industries, highlighting how the local economic development group works to build and support the ecosystem.

An example of leveraging a base of existing companies and a strong workforce is Austin, which recently recorded its fourth straight quarter of deal volume in excess of $1 billion, with 43% of that total going to business and financial service companies. It also boasts a business-friendly tax and incentives environment that draws entrepreneurs and investors alike.

Austin has clearly grown from a locale where technology companies have regional offices to a leader in new ideas and opportunities. VC firms are taking notice.

We are seeing some regions begin to reap the benefits of a concerted effort to grow their VC ecosystem. For example, Dallas and Jacksonville both had strong first quarters in 2022 in terms of activity and are emerging markets that are working to create a fertile environment for both entrepreneurs and investors.

It’s not just Sunbelt cities that are benefiting: Chicago had its first-ever $1 billion quarter in early 2022, with 60% being invested in business and financial services. This is an example of leveraging existing domain expertise—in this case, finance—that is being disrupted by technology. 

The key is to invest in community assets that appeal to entrepreneurs: local universities and colleges, high-speed broadband, outdoor recreation, downtown revitalization, flexible workspace, and more. Create public/private partnerships whenever possible to maximize funding and speed development.

Much of what makes Silicon Valley successful is the “pay-it-forward” culture that has developed over the years. Investors, entrepreneurs, advisers, and people with specialized expertise all serve as connectors, introducing people with ideas to potential customers and suggesting ways to access capital to help push their ideas and dreams forward.

That culture is replicable, but that requires people on the ground to do their part to get it started.

The local community of entrepreneurs needs to be engaged with one another: sharing ideas, making introductions, and passing along references. The knowledge of how to develop technology and turn it into a viable product is critical. Having local people who are willing to share their expertise and help entrepreneurs navigate that process is extremely valuable.

Regional hubs offer some advantages that Silicon Valley can’t match, and entrepreneurs and investors are noticing. Rents, salaries, and other expenses are significantly lower in regional markets. That makes a big difference for startups—and for talented individuals seeking a better quality of life.

For example, Miami is a rapidly growing VC market that is benefiting from its one-of-a-kind lifestyle and unique cultural benefits. It has strong local government support to make it a technology and VC hotspot. As investors and entrepreneurs look for low-tax, business-friendly locales, Miami stands out in large part due to the quality of life it affords.

Ultimately, investors will go where there is money to be made. Silicon Valley has been the innovation leader, but regional hubs that focus on key industries and invest in an entrepreneurial ecosystem and culture will thrive in the years ahead.

Jeff Grabow is EY’s U.S. venture capital leader. The source of all the data within this article is Crunchbase, Ernst & Young LLP. The views expressed by the author are not necessarily those of Ernst & Young LLP or other members of the global EY organization.

The opinions expressed in commentary pieces are solely the views of their authors and do not reflect the opinions and beliefs of Fortune.

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