Since April, we've been documenting pockets of innovation across America, under the premise that today's flux-driven economy can support entrepreneurs in any city, no matter how small and far-flung. In many ways, that underdog status is a boon, enabling outlandish ideas that wouldn't rate in more competitive markets, such as San Francisco and New York. Take Madison, Wisconsin, where progressive legislation is helping produce a new generation of tech startups, or Northern Arkansas, which has transformed into a hub for innovative retail companies in part because the biggest retailer of all, Walmart, is based there. The old barriers to starting and growing a business no longer abide. Here, we round up the best ideas emerging from some of the country's least likely places.
Walmart is headquartered here, the upshot of which is that it has helped the city and the surrounding region attract a slew of innovative retail companies. That includes TTAGG, a startup that performs market research in real time, and Red Clay, a crowd-sourced home decor business.
Media companies are sprouting up in Sarasota. Other local startups hope to process plasma for medical research and to serve the film industry, which is expected to grow with new tax credits from the state. The guardians of the city's burgeoning startup scene often clash with the older crowd, a dynamic parodied relentlessly in the Portlandia-inspired web series Saratopia.
/11|Colorado Springs, Colorado
Colorado Springs is the amateur-sports capital of America, home to the United States Olympic Committee and 22 national sports governing bodies. Together, their impact on the economy is worth an estimated $215 million a year (and that's not including several dozen amateur sports groups also based in Colorado Springs).
/11|Buffalo, New York
Buffalo has emerged from its post-industrial slumber as a leader in healthcare innovation. Liazon, a Buffalo-based, 75-person startup, helps small and midsized businesses negotiate health insurance so that employees aren't stuck with one-size-fits-all plans.
Madison has a clutch of established startups like Sonic Foundry, Shoutlet, and Call of Duty co-creator Raven Software. Now the city hopes to expand its tech scene by taking advantage of state legislation that offers local angel investors a 25% tax credit for funding emerging startups.
/11|St. Paul, Minnesota
The Northern Warehouse, in St. Paul's once-sketchy Lowertown district, is a cutting-edge housing project designed explicitly for artists. Developed more than 20 years ago, it's an early case study of how artists can help rejuvenate downtrodden neighborhoods without getting forced out after rents rise.
Detroit Labs embodies the gonzo spirit of innovation that pervades Detroit. The one-year-old startup designs and builds mobile applications for big clients like Chevrolet and Domino's, but it also lets employees devote one day a week to totally independent projects. "Our goal is to empower the actual developers to become entrepreneurs," cofounder Dan Ward says.