Benefits to starting a company in the Midwest
Starting a tech company outside of Silicon Valley can sound absurd to some. We recently exhibited at the Startup Grind Global Conference in NorCal, and people were mind boggled that we were a tech-startup from Madison, WI. Silicon Valley after all is seemingly the tech-hub for ideas and unicorns (a startup that is valued over $1B). Not to mention the amount of venture capital in the Valley is much more abundant than the Midwest. But starting a company outside of Silicon Valley does have its perks. We launched Wolf Flow (a desktop productivity software) in April 2017 right after moving to Madison, WI, and it has been an unexpected blessing. Some of the benefits we personally have noticed are: the community mentality, a condensed amount of accessible resources, and people genuinely want to see you succeed.
I lived out in Los Angeles for almost 4 years working for an ad-tech startup and I’m not the first to say, but considering how many live there, it can be hard to meet people. In a smaller community like Madison though, you don’t have that problem (or at least not as much). When I first moved here, we were introduced to one very helpful guy who introduced us to at least 5 great connections, who turned around to introduce us to another 5 people, and so on. In a city like Madison, people just seem more willing to help because you are a community and are “in it to win it, together”. Larger cities like Silicon Valley are just more “cut-throat”. There is intense competition and therefore, people keep to themselves a bit more and seem to be less likely to go out of their way to help you succeed.
Accessible Resources for Startups
Madison is a small town, there’s no doubt about that. I’ve lived in Chicago, Sydney, Minneapolis and Los Angeles, and Madison is just a speck compared to those cities. But it is amazing how many resources there are in such a condensed space. I think it has a lot to do with the people who live here. They are all extremely passionate about what they do and are passionate about creating ways to share it with others. I would argue that in a a big area like Silicon Valley although there may actually be more resources, they are less accessible and I’d venture to say less inviting to “newbies”.
A few of my favorite FREE resources (but definitely not all) in Madison that have been extremely helpful to our growth are:
- The Small Business Development Center - Great for people with just an idea or startups trying to figure out the next step.
- The Business & Entrepreneurship Clinic - We partnered with them for some market research and business development efforts.
- The Doyenne Group - Calling all female or minority founders. Doyenne is a networking group that also has free coaching (and workshops) to give us a boost.
- Merlin Mentors - A program for founders where you can be paired with mentors in different areas of business to help guide you.
Friendly Founders = Support System
People are kind! This is why I love the Midwest and after moving around so much have returned to Wisconsin. Having a network of other founders to talk through the ups and downs of entrepreneurship with is a necessity. Again I’m not the first to say this, but entrepreneurship is a lonely journey. Friends and family are great, but seldomly can they empathize with you because they haven’t experienced what you are going through. Being in a smaller community like Madison, people are closer together and the relationships you make with others are real. Being able to connect with them and knowing they are there to support you through one of your lows is invaluable.
Take Advantage of your Location
I’m not trying to dis Silicon Valley. But I’m pointing out that although some things like raising capital may be harder to do outside of the tech-hub, I feel there are many benefits to starting a company in a smaller city (outside of cheaper rent!). If you are working on launching a startup in a smaller city, don’t get discouraged. Some things may be harder, but it's not impossible. Ask for help and get involved with your community. You will probably be surprised how many resources there are to help you succeed. Starting a company is hard in any city and your location shouldn’t stop you from living your dream.
To learn more about Wolf Flow’s journey building their company in Madison, Wisconsin, read the Weinert Center for Entrepreneurship blog post.