09/21/2021

Why startups are leaving Silicon Valley

First, the evidence that something is changing. Last year more Americans left the county of San Francisco than arrived. According to a recent survey, 46% of respondents say they plan to leave the Bay Area in the next few years, up from 34% in 2016. So many startups are branching out into new places that the trend has a name, “Off Silicon Valleying”. Peter Thiel, perhaps the Valley’s most high-profile venture capitalist, is among those upping sticks. Those who stay have broader horizons: in 2013 Silicon Valley investors put half their money into startups outside the Bay Area; now it is closer to two-thirds.

The reasons for this shift are manifold, but chief among them is the sheer expense of the Valley. The cost of living is among the highest in the world. One founder reckons young startups pay at least four times more to operate in the Bay Area than in most other American cities. New technologies, from quantum computing to synthetic biology, offer lower margins than internet services, making it more important for startups in these emerging fields to husband their cash. All this is before taking into account the nastier features of Bay Area life: clogged traffic, discarded syringes and shocking inequality.

Other cities are rising in relative importance as a result. The Kauffman Foundation, a non-profit group that tracks entrepreneurship, now ranks the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area first for startup activity in America, based on the density of startups and new entrepreneurs. Mr Thiel is moving to Los Angeles, which has a vibrant tech scene. Phoenix and Pittsburgh have become hubs for autonomous vehicles; New York for media startups; London for fintech; Shenzhen for hardware. None of these places can match the Valley on its own; between them, they point to a world in which innovation is more distributed.

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