9 hot neighborhoods for tech startups

The Internet hasn't eliminated geography. When it comes to building a vibrant startup scene, it's all about location, location, location.

Location, location, location

The geographic location most associated with high tech is Silicon Valley, stretching down the San Francisco Peninsula into San Jose. And while it's undeniably the core of a multibillion-dollar industry, it's also a bland, unwalkable non-place, suburban sprawl dotted with isolated corporate campuses.

There is a counter-trend: younger people tend to enjoy living in denser, more cohesive cities, and a series of hot tech startup neighborhoods have sprung up around the U.S. Even in the Bay Area, much of the tech industry's center of gravity has migrated north to San Francisco; in this slideshow, we'll peek at some of the other urban neighborhoods that have attracted tech-focused startups and their accompanying energy and cash.

Dumbo, New York

Manhattan's Silicon Alley may be New York's original tech neighborhood, but it's been eclipsed as the city's premier tech startup hub by Dumbo, just a quick bridge trip or subway ride over the East River in Brooklyn.

Given its silly-sounding name (which stands for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) in the late '70s by artists who rented the local lofts and hoped it would keep gentrification at bay, the neighborhood is now red-hot and very expensive. 500 tech and creative firms cluster in a 10-block radius along the water, employing over 10,000 people. Prominent companies based there include Etsy (the godmother of online handcrafted twee), HowAboutWe, which bills itself as an "offline dating site," and mobile design firm SmallPlanet.

Kendall and Davis Squares, Massachusetts

Just as the Silicon Valley's tech scene has thrived on its proximity to Stanford, so too has the string of built-up cities and neighborhoods along the MBTA's Red Line north of Boston spun gold from nearby MIT. As tech entrepreneur Brian Feld puts it, "my entire entrepreneurial view of 'Boston' is centered around Cambridge."

But gentrification is an issue for businesses as well as residents: Kendall Square, adjacent to MIT, hosts outposts for marquee names like Microsoft and Google; startups like Echo Nest, a "music intelligence" company founded by MIT PhDs, have been priced out and now cluster a few miles away up the Red Line subway, in Davis Square in neighboring Somerville.

The Near West Side, Chicago

While tech companies have been clustering in Chicago's North Loop for a while now, the Near West Side, just on the other side of the Dan Ryan Expressway from the Loop, is the new hotness. Maybe companies are trying to get away from the stench of Groupon's failure? Or are just looking for lower rents.

Two of the biggest companies located there are TastyTrade and Dough, which sound like restaurants but are actually tech companies that cater to the financial services sector. There's already been a trend piece about Table XI, a Near West Side company that has an in-house chef and numerous treadmill-desks, so you know it must be the a tech mecca.

Silicon Beach, Los Angeles

While just about every high-tech company in L.A. is grabbing onto this name, it originally referred to some truly beachfront property on the Los Angeles region's West Side, including the city of Santa Monica and the Venice neighborhood.

As perhaps is appropriate for a Los Angeles scene, the Silicon Beach ecosystem is described in a recent New York Times article as extroverted, fun, network-y, and graced by occasional celebrities like Jessica Alba who are dipping their toes into the startup world. The community, which spawned companies like Snapchat and Tinder, is flexing its political muscle too, hosting a debate for local Congressional candidates.

Pioneer Square, Seattle

When you think of Seattle-area tech, you think of Redmond, the suburb where Microsoft HQ is planted, or the South Lake Union district, where Amazon is planning its futuristic bio-dome compound. But Pioneer Square, literally the city's oldest neighborhood, is the new center of the tech startup scene.

Discovery Bay Games CEO Craig Olson perfectly summed up why a lot of the neighborhoods on this list take off: the combination of relatively cheap loft space with "a wide diversity of restaurant options for our employees and ease in getting there via public transport, bike, or driving." Zynga and LivingSocial are two of the better-known companies with office space there, but the number of startups is really quite bewildering.

Boulder, Colorado

Yes, most of the other places on this list are compact neighborhoods in large cities. Boulder is a small city town on the fringes of the Denver metro area, but its compact, walkable layout and proximity to the University of Colorado and U.S. government research labs has fostered a unique tech startup culture that actually values work-life balance (because how else are you going to enjoy the great outdoors?).

Today, Boulder has what venture capitalist (and local booster) Brad Feld calls true entrepreneurial density. Successful local tech companies include Rafflecopter, which helps small publishers do giveaways on their sites, and TeamSnap, which offers online organizational to sports teams and clubs.

M@dison Block, Detroit

Despite Detroit's myriad economic problems, optimists are doing their best to plant seeds of a tech renaissance there, a process helped along by the presence of the surprisingly tech-hungry automotive industry. One such seed has landed on a block in downtown Detroit that boosters are giving the name the Madison Block (sometimes, sadly, written as "M@dison").

This collection of historic buildings houses Grand Circus, a technology training firm, and Detroit Venture Partners, which is funding a host of startups. Embryonic companies growing there include Food Junky, which aims to make restaurant delivery for large groups more seamless, and Backstitch, which puts a new spin on personalized Web portals for the social media age.

Downtown Las Vegas

Tech-focused urban renewal is happening on a much grander scale in Downtown Las Vegas, a formerly seedy area north of the famous Strip that's being completely transformed mostly by the whims of one man, Zappos founder Tony Hsieh.

Much of the attention has been focused on Hsieh's moves to create a hip, vibrant urban neighborhood around Zappos headquarters were his employees can live and play; but he's luring tech startups to the neighborhood with investment. Perhaps the most prominent is OrderWithMe, which helps small businesses buy manufactured goods from China. Downtown Las Vegas's transformation has been profound, and some people find the whole thing a little cult-like.

Silicon Taiga

For our final installment, let's go ... a little further afield, deep into Siberia. Akademgorodok, or "Academy Town," was a planned academic suburb built by the Soviets outside the city of Novosibirsk that flowered into a tech startup hub in the wild days after the fall of Communism.

Though lacking in hip bars or twee shops, it does feature "many intertwined, footworn paths" linking the various residential and office areas. It's also home to Russian software development companies like Azoft and the Russian outposts of international tech giants like Intel and HP.