What We Learned Driving 2,000 Miles Through the South's Start-up Landscape

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WASHINGTON -- After seven days and a couple thousand miles, your Start-up South adventurers, Sarah Rich and I, are back in the District of Columbia. From Richmond to New Orleans, we found dozens of entrepreneurs who form an astonishingly vital start-up scene in the southeast.

StartupNationbug.pngHere's a big takeaway from all that driving and fried food: the mid-size southern city has some advantages over the big four cities (NYC, LA, DC, SF). For one, many of these communities offer substantial support in the form of tax credits, office space, incubators, and other more informal help. Second, everything is cheaper, especially real estate. Third, to build a company in one of these places is to become a part of it. While founders come and go among the masses of Silicon Valley startups, each of these companies means something to Chattanooga or Shreveport or Durham. The mayor, whoever he or she is, knows them. Last and most squishy, a sense of place can be a competitive advantage. Whether it's Moonbot Studios immersion in Louisiana storytelling culture, Atlanta's We&Co creation of a gratitude app, or Rebirth Capital bringing peer-to-peer lending to a resurgent New Orleans, the way a place imagines itself can get into the blood of a company, giving them fresh eyes to see new business opportunities.

There were all kinds of predictions about the end of geography stemming from the rise of the Internet. As our own Richard Florida and others have shown, place, per se, didn't stop mattering in the Internet age. But the number of places that can matter has increased. Given the right combination of art, culture, and capital, a startup can draw customers from anywhere (everywhere!) and create a thriving business in any city.

Along our trip, we took portraits of the people who were starting companies and driving the creative economy. Take a look. These are some of the faces of southern innovation.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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