Despite what the die-hard Squelchers might want you to believe, the Start-Up Nation is growing. Part of this growth pattern is borne of necessity. With
the economy in tatters and government all but broke, there's little choice but to go out and build something for yourself with your colleagues,
fellow-travellers, and friends. Startups are much less capital-intensive than they once were. Partly because of the better tools we have at our
disposal (the Internet, advanced software, etc.), partly because we live in a more modular economy that allows critical functions, from manufacturing
and distribution to design and marketing, to be subcontracted out. Some of it is because others have done it, and we've seen what they can do. And a
lot of it is from a cultural revolution: the fading of an old dream that saw a good job, a big house, and a big car as the goals by which success was
measured, and the emergence of a new one that sees the challenge of building something novel and unique as the key to true fulfillment.
For all these reasons, the geography of start-up America is spreading, slowly and gradually, but inexorably. It's taking root in lots of places, from
Portland, Oregon to Brooklyn, New York, and from Boulder, Colorado to Portland, Maine. And the South is an important part of it as well. Too many of us
paint regions with too broad a brush -- North versus South, East versus West, Sunbelt versus Frostbelt. Those once-convenient categories make little sense
anymore, if they ever made sense at all.
Many communities in the South have long had the capacities to be part of the Start-Up ethos but perhaps the Squelchers blocked it out. That is changing
and has been for some time. Austin, Texas, has a great university and it is an established center for semiconductors, computers, and software. North
Carolina's Research Triangle has a similarly long track record in high-tech, being home to the SAS Institute, a spinoff of North Carolina State
University and the nation's largest privately held software company. Dallas has been a long-time leader in computing and IT. A study my colleagues and
I did several years back found Houston to have one of the nation's greatest concentrations of software engineers, many of them working in the oil
industry and related sectors. Chattanooga has its green industries; Huntsville its high-tech electronics. Florida's Space Coast has aerospace, not to
mention Orlando, a center for media and entertainment.
There is no single indicator of startups, but perhaps the best is venture-capital investments. And detailed data on such investment is available from
Money Tree report. In 2010, Silicon Valley accounted for the lion's share of venture-capital investment by far: $9.1 billion, or about 40 percent of the total. New
England, with its high-tech complex running from Cambridge and Boston to the surrounding Route 128 area, was second with $2.6 billion, 11 percent of
the total. New York, with its newly ascendant Silicon Alley, was third, with roughly $2 billion, or 8.6 percent. The Southeast states -- mainly North
Carolina but also Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Mississippi, and Alabama -- attracted $1.2 billion (5.1 percent) mainly concentrated in biotech,
software, telecom, and media. Texas accounted for close to another billion ($942 million), or 4.1 percent with its investments mainly focussed on
energy as well as software, media, and semiconductors. And while the level of venture investment in the South-Central states (including Oklahoma,
Arkansas, Kansas, and Louisiana) remains low relatively speaking, the region saw a staggering 540-percent growth between 2005 and 2010, the largest
increase across any region of the country by far. Overall, roughly one in ten of the nation's venture investment dollars are spent in the South.