This Town of 60,000 Just Might Be the Next Great Startup Launchpad

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This Town of 60,000 Just Might Be the Next Great Startup Launchpad

In short:

  • While cities often tout themselves as “the next great startup hub” with the best of intentions, Greenwich, Conn., has unique assets to make good on its promise.
  • The town just outside New York City leads the nation in hedge fund clout, and its well-connected residents are ideal partners for young companies.
  • Greenwich’s community supports startup-style ingenuity, as seen in its new annual Economic Forum and shockingly successful high school science students.

Jeff Barrett has visited nearly 50 cities on his tour of U.S. startup ecosystems. He’s shadowed entrepreneurs from Columbus, Ohio to Tampa, Fla., developing his theory of what it takes to make the perfect startup city. Some cities are arguably primed for a bigger volume of startups – consider Houston’s population of millions and 16-acre “startup village” – while others like Greenwich, Conn. are ideal for hosting fewer companies needing more capital.  

Here’s why Greenwich is a city to consider when launching your startup.

Earlier this year, I took the train up from Grand Central Station in New York City armed with only a little bit of Internet research about Greenwich, Conn. I knew that the Vineyard Vines founders got their start here. I knew that the region is home to the two largest hedge funds in the country and experts rank it fourth globally in hedge fund jobs. That was about it, but the information had me intrigued.

Most cities are trying to sell you on a vision of their future as a thriving startup hub. But most of these cities struggle with the capital piece, where to find consistent sources of funding.

Greenwich doesn’t have that problem. If anything, the city is the exact inverse of any of the now-close-to-50 cities I have visited in the U.S. Greenwich has the problems you want to have: It’s 45 minutes from New York City, it has more access to capital and investment than any other mid-sized startup city, and it doesn’t lack in influential people willing to help elevate the city.

Don’t let the quaint vibes fool you. Greenwich, Conn. is a booming with startup-worthy capital.

Greenwich’s access to capital

No, Greenwich’s problem isn’t assets, it’s getting people to know it’s a startup city at all.

Tracy Chadwell, who runs 1843 Capital, focuses on finding and attracting ventures with diverse founding teams, and she’s helping to position Greenwich as a startup destination. Something she said, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, about the Greenwich community encapsulated the city’s essence best: Greenwich is the kind of city where deals are made at a lacrosse game.

In other words, major financial deals can be made in informal settings. It’s that kind of close-knit community.

Although so much investment attention gets paid to Silicon Valley or Boston, there is an impressive amount of capital here, relative to Greenwich’s size. Consider reports of two $20 million investments led by Greenwich-based firms, both from the past week. And there is access here. Instead of being the 3,000th startup in those communities, you can be among the first in Greenwich.

Granted, it will take some time before Greenwich gets recognized as a premier startup hub. But it has the clearest path of any city I have visited. Walking Greenwich Avenue, you’ll see smart and well-connected entrepreneurs everywhere you go, from the bottom of the hill to the old post office-turned-Restoration Hardware.

The charms of Greenwich

It’s not a cheap city. Far from it. It’s a realtor’s dream, with million dollar homes at the bottom end of the market. Tamar Lurie, a well-known Greenwich realtor who commutes in every day from Manhattan, has seen a shift in more affordable housing options as the city looks to attract more entrepreneurs and sees the value in startups.

But to really understand the value that Greenwich has, look at the Greenwich Economic Forum. On the surface it’s a modest, but well produced event of a few hundred people, held at the Delamar Greenwich Harbor. It’s a beautiful setting right on the water.

Most of the conferences I attend host 15,000 people or more in large convention centers. I’ve thought about applying for dual citizenship in Las Vegas at this point.

The Greenwich Economic Forum doesn’t need size or pyrotechnics or a fun mascot. It’s only two years old, but CNBC has produced live coverage from it both years. That’s partly because it’s a quick train ride from the U.S. media capital of New York City. But it’s mostly because Greenwich resident Ray Dalio headlines it, and the room is full of powerful billionaire investors identifying where to invest next.

This is the single greatest room to try and pitch your startup idea. It’s Shark Tank times a thousand. It’s new, and most entrepreneurs don’t know about it yet, but it should be on your radar.

Yep, this is where Greenwich’s new annual Economic Forum takes place, the Delamar Greenwich Harbor.

The big Greenwich pitch

That’s the most important takeaway from Greenwich: There are plenty of smart investors here and not nearly enough startups accessing their power and influence. Investors may be more discerning than those in Silicon Valley because startups haven’t been their typical comfort zone. But smart money never turns down a good return.

And the resources here are unmatched. This is my favorite example. They pulled Andrew Bramante, a former product specialist for Hitachi and research corporation PerkinElmer, from the private sector to lead a research class at a public high school. Students have to apply for the class, and there are no assignments or tests, just a project that you can work on for one to four years. Bramante works on it personally with each student to develop it and teach good research habits.

The result is that every year, Greenwich High wins national Intel science competitions or has a student create something like the world’s best low-cost Ebola test to win a national Google science competition. The results are astonishing. Bramante is modest and fascinating to listen to when he describes how much joy he gets from the success of his students and how they are laying the groundwork for great careers in anything they pursue.

CBS Producer Heather Won Tesoriero, was so impressed with a similar conversation that she took a year off work, followed Bramante and wrote a book about his class.

Entrepreneurs wanted 

In short, the community of Greenwich is smart, and it’s playing a winning hand. If it puts resources into winning high school science competitions, you can bet the town will sink its teeth into becoming the next great startup hub.

The aura around Greenwich feels somewhat like 1990s Silicon Valley like right now. It just needs a couple smart entrepreneurs to get the ball rolling. Everything else is in place.