There is a frequently heard mantra in Austin that we’re not like Silicon Valley (that we don’t want to be like Silicon Valley) and though I’m of the mind that disagrees with that, considering Silicon Valley an industry of which we’re a part rather than a merely a specific location, what you can’t refute is that geographically, Austin really is shaping up with the Valley’s San Francisco-like density and exuberance in one place, complemented with the separate Palo Alto-like capital, resource, and later-stage tech epicenter.
The explosion of Austin’s downtown in recent years has so overshadowed the rest of Austin that it struck me with some concern, in a recent chat with some Chicago startup vets, that the world increasingly perhaps perceives Austin’s startup and tech community as what is downtown. Indeed even locally, I’ve met with younger entrepreneurs and newcomers who remark with surprise upon discovering NW Austin that they had no idea how significant and pivotal role it plays.
Of course, those that live out that direction are aware of it. I live near Lake Travis (about 40 minutes NW of the city) and it’s common knowledge that a week or two hanging out at specific coffee shops along the 360 corridor will result in your having met the great majority of Austin’s Venture Capitalists. But as it became increasingly clear that the perception of Austin is being defined by downtown (not in a negative way mind you, more like how the focus of and frequency of attention on news makes one perceive something as more dominant than it might actually be), I became certain that an important piece of the Austin story needs to be clear.
Austin’s Tech & Startup Corridor: Northwest Austin
The neighborhood in which I find myself, Steiner Ranch, has an inside joke that it’s where all the Silicon Valley transplants live. I can’t disagree really, it is where I settled. But the thought has merit as topographically, Central Texas’ Hill Country is a little reminiscent of Silicon Valley’s hills and the bay. Lake Travis’ enormity and the winding Lake Austin pours water throughout this region while the hills draw cyclists the likes of which I’ve only ever seen cruising Sand Hill Road and San Francisco. In my neighborhood alone, counted as notable Angel Investors and tech Founders are around 100 whom I know personally; with whom our kids play and we collectively fight traffic into the city. But more relevant to the consideration of the NW Austin region is that River Place and West Lake Hills, Steiner’s neighbor communities, bluntly, comprise the highest per capita income neighborhoods: investors – akin to Palo Alto.
Recently, HPI Real Estate Services and Investment’s Richard Paddock shared that in 2015, over 650,000 square feet of new office space was developed in the area. City and Commercial Property planning (well, everyone here really) considers The Domain and Arboretum area of Austin (around 183 and 360 freeways) the future second city center, with higher density building already going in and higher rising building being planned. It makes sense, to draw comparisons to a characteristic of Ancient Rome that helped drive their dominance, NW Austin is in many ways where all roads meet as 35 comes down from Dallas, 183 heads to Cedar Park, and 360 and Mopac funnel most commuters north and south.
Don’t misunderstand me, my intention is not to suggest SE Austin doesn’t have many of the same qualities and growth, I’m only pointing out that the characteristics of this region: topographically, demographically, economically, transportation wise, and industry specific, puts Austin’s “Silicon Valley” in NW Austin.
|And remarkably, and even a little surprisingly, the workforce makeup supports that premise with nearly 10% of area residents working in tech (only 13% of Silicon Valley’s population works in tech!) and explosive future job growth that exceeds the rate of job growth in N. California.
Take a look at this map and you can envision how driving around here feels like driving around Mountain View and San Mateo, with Apple, Samsung, Cisco, Google, IBM, Microsoft campuses and more making it clear that you’re in tech country. And that’s the short list, I’ve organized my map to make it a little easier to digest as there is so much here: Companies, Key Locations, and Investors.
It should be clear that NW Austin is not just corporate tech as, possibly, the greater majority of Austin’s tech startups are actually being built throughout here. Evidence of that is seen in the coworking, incubator, and even coffee shop culture that’s evolved in the region, putting developers, founders, marketing professionals and more right in the back yard of the big tech companies. IBM’s campus, up near the Domain, is considered one of the preferred tech event spaces throughout Austin given it’s significant size and centralized location to so many of the surrounding tech companies from as far away as Cedar Park, Round Rock, and Bee Caves. Tech Ranch and the International Accelerator serve many of the regions earlier stage founders and coffee spots such as Lola Savannah, Monkey Nest, 360 Uno, and yes, Starbucks, at the Arboretum, are seemingly permanently occupied by tech professionals and investors.
What makes Austin such an incredibly appealing destination for tech entrepreneurs and investors is that all of the elements of a sophisticated tech economy are here, when you consider that different regions play different roles in fostering, funding, employing, founding, and maturing technology.
Bottom line, though many Austinite’s cringe at the parallels many of us here draw to the fact that our tech community is indeed quite a bit like Silicon Valley, frankly, when you’re wondering why Austin?? you have to appreciate that the explosive growth of tech and tech investment in Texas is largely the result of NW Austin where capital, technology, and tech professionals really dominate the scene (and I haven’t even begun to scratch the list of all the early stage tech startups in the region!).
Don’t let my list be short, if you’re in the area or know of a company or resource that is, let me know so we can create valuable resource for everyone.