Why you should consider it:
A sustained migration from Silicon Valley, as both startups and giant companies search for less costly space while losing none of the sunny lifestyle, has built Austin into the US’ new tech hub.
Who it’s good for:
Founders wanting to test a concept and network without forking out cashloads, and mid-size firms looking to scale up.
The city is hitting its peak while remaining affordable. Wait any longer and it might have already become a victim of its own popularity.
Until 20 years ago, Austin was known primarily for great weather, good food and a major film-and-music scene – all three of which culminated every year at the SXSW media festival. Add to this several top universities, a practical time-zone (right between New York and San Francisco), and relatively cheap downtown office space –and it’s no surprise to see so many tech companies have either moved over entirely or established auxiliary hubs. This not only creates jobs but makes for a thriving economy and plenty of collaborative opportunities – an attractive environment for startups. Venture capital investment in Austin hit $1.7bn in 2019, up 28% on the previous year.
‘Tech pulls in lots of other industries’
Sara Arthrell, the global director of product marketing at Brightpearl, a UK-based retail software company, talks about why her company moved to Austin.
Why did Brightpearl move its US HQ from San Francisco to Austin?
‘For its growing tech community, specifically the partnership opportunities. There are other retail software companies like ShipStation – down the street – and Big Commerce – in the same building – that are key partners, and being in close proximity made it easier to further those relationships. Austin is also more affordable. Our office is located right in downtown in Austin and we’re blocks from the University of Texas, so we’ve had some great recruitment opportunities (you’ve also got a lot of young grads moving here from California).’
Is there a burgeoning retail scene in Austin that you can capitalise on?
‘As Austin continues to grow as a tech hub, it also extends its fingers into other areas, like retail. We have quite a few customers in Austin. Although it’s been a tough time for retail recently, most of our customers are in e-commerce and they’re seeing crazy growth. Especially in categories like sports and leisure. We have a home fitness customer in Austin that saw 600% year-over-year sales growth.’
What other industries are developing in the city?
‘You’ve got the big names here in Austin: Google, Apple, and Tesla’s moving here. Tech pulls in lots of other industries like hospitality and real estate and generally introduces a healthy economy. And then what ends up happening is that more people want to move here because business is doing well and unemployment is low.’
The custom furniture maker
D’Andre (@d_andre_furniture) has been making handcrafted, customised furniture in Austin since 2017. Here he shares his thoughts about the city’s more creative side.
‘Austin residents often have an air of business about their lives. And for a business like mine that operates off direct sales, the challenge can be closing deals with busy clients. In a time when most things can get to you in two days with free shipping, I had to create a process that could turn abstract ideas into tangible dreams in order to get people willing to slow down and invest in handcrafted, custom pieces. Thankfully, Austin is very well suited for creative work; there’s a great appreciation here for the arts.’
‘I’m a one-man shop, and I learned early on that I can’t compete with bigger shops or stores in terms of speed. So, instead, I focus my energy on the individualisation of my pieces. The heart of my business is meeting the exact needs of each client. [For them this means] no more endless searching only to have to settle for less. I don’t limit myself to one style or aesthetic, but rather make myself available to all who have a vision that they want brought to life.
‘After everything that has happened this year, Austin is taking a very intentional look at itself and asking some important questions. There is a lot of mobilisation towards creating equity for all who live here, which is an inspiring thing to be a part of. Austinites were already pretty good about supporting local businesses, and I think that is increasing a lot, especially for Black-owned businesses like mine.’
Find more of the top cities for starting something new in 2021.
This article was first published in Courier Issue 37, October/November 2020. To purchase the full issue or become a subscriber, head to our webshop.