14 Intriguing Tech-Minded Cities to Live and Work
While places like San Francisco, Seattle and Tokyo routinely place high on lists of innovative global high-tech centers, they are also characterized by high rents and a lot of competition for jobs and funding.
So many lesser-known tech-friendly cities are becoming more popular with both startups and people in high-tech industries. These cities often have lower rents and a more reasonable cost of living, and sometimes a smaller, more manageable size. Many already have established health or research and development centers, and a highly educated workforce.
In some cities, government programs and joint venture initiatives are remaking them into high-tech hubs, offering startup capital, moderate tax rates and low barriers to establishing a business. Some places on our list make sense, such as Singapore, historically a gateway to Asian markets, while others may be more of a surprise.
Here’s a list of cities that are embracing technology in interesting and innovative ways.
The city is home to the Zhangjiang Hi-Tech Park, a sprawling area that contains over 110 research and development facilities, 3,500 companies and 100,000 workers, specializing in biomedicine, software, semiconductors or information technology. There's even an institute of Traditional Chinese Medicine, investigating ancient remedies for modern use.
Largely due to the Tech Park, Shanghai has one of the highest levels of patents and venture capital funding in China.
Dublin has its own high-tech area, known as Silicon Docks, centered on the city’s historic docklands. The area is home to numerous tech companies and startups, including Google, Facebook, Hubspot, DropBox, Airbnb, TripAdvisor and Accenture.
Ireland is a highly desirable base for tech companies as it offers a low corporate tax rate, a large young talent pool of workers and a ready availability of seed funding, including Ireland’s Competitive Start Fund which funds 60 new startups each year.
Denver, Colorado, USA
Just outside the city, near Denver International Airport, Panasonic is building its first U.S.-based CityNow project: a model high-tech suburb that includes off-grid power; a network of electric, self-driving cars; community-wide wi-fi; and smart homes and businesses.
Panasonic chose the Denver area for its “lack of bureaucratic holdups.” State and local governments are eager to work together to ensure high-tech industries will relocate here and provide jobs. The city is also home to the Denver Tech Center (built in the 1970s) as well as the annual Denver Startup Week.
The Denver area has a young, well-educated workforce offering a year-round outdoor lifestyle, and lower cost of living than many coastal cities.
The U.S. capital seems a unlikely high-tech hub, but the tech scene is growing rapidly here and local government is actively luring new companies to the area. Currently more than 1,000 startups are based in D.C. and the number of tech-related jobs has jumped 50 percent in the last ten years.
The city has established a “Technology Corridor“ and will give grants, ranging from $25,000 to $200,000, to eligible startups that move here.
The city is also developing an innovation hub. The hub will house a Microsoft Innovation Center, offering tech-based classes and workshops to the local community.
In addition, Amazon announced half of its second headquarters, aka HQ2, will be located in Crystal City, Virginia, just across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C.
This former Soviet republic is being called a future model for digital countries.
“The ‘E’ in Estonia might as well stand for electronic,” wrote MaryEllen Duckett in National Geographic Traveler. Estonia was the first country to guarantee Internet access as a human right, switch to online voting and accept digital signatures for most transactions. It will also be one of the first countries to test a 5G network.
The capital, Tallinn, is a model for future “E-nabled” cities. State-run incubators have launched startups such as Starship Technologies (delivery robots) and Skype (Internet-based calling).
The Tallinn Creative Hub features a MakerLab, recording studio, concerts, theater performances, conference, learning clubs, workshops and more. Estonia offers digital residency to anyone wishing to set up a company in the country, accessing local payment and tax facilities, and EU markets, and will trial a digital nomad visa in 2019.
The Netherlands offers a workforce with some of the highest levels of math and science education globally, as well as a national government determined to push for innovation. It also offers a much lower tax rate than many other EU countries, as well as an extendable startup residence visa. The level of funding for startups is increasing rapidly, including programs such as the Dutch Venture Initiative.
Amsterdam is a very livable and surprisingly low-cost city, with affordable housing and office space, bike and pedestrian access, and a plan to ban all non-electric vehicles from the city by 2025.
Successful Dutch startups include Booking.com and The Next Web. Both Netflix and Uber recently opened European headquarters in Amsterdam, and more startups are expected to follow suit. The city hosts an annual tech and startup conference, as well as incubation and accelerator programs such as Rockstart and StartUpBootCamp.
Singapore is considered the second-best city in Asia for tech companies, according to a recent report from Colliers International. The Lion City is already a major financial, travel and communication hub in the region, making it a natural center for accessing Asian markets.
Google located its Next Billion Users division in the city. Startup Grab Taxi set up a research and development center, employing over 200 engineers and data scientists. IBM opened IBM Studios Singapore, a user experience design center.
Factors such as the island nation’s high educational standards and a well-trained pool of workers, existing research facilities, moderate tax rates and low barriers to doing business all contribute to Singapore’s growing desirability as a home for startups and tech companies in Asia.
Singapore is also a safe place to live, with low corruption and a generally high standard of living, and it has free island-wide Internet access.
A bike-friendly, green city that plans to be the world’s first carbon-neutral capital by 2025, Copenhagen is known for its forward-thinking urban planning. Another plus to living in Copenhagen is the country’s rating as one of the happiest in the world, with robust healthcare and education systems. The Danish have a strong focus on a healthy work-life balance.
In the past few years, Copenhagen has become a tech hub, with co-working and startup spaces springing up, including Startup Village, a space devoted solely to tech startups. Danish success stories include wine app Vivino, software company Peakon and the review platform Trustpilot.
With half of its total population both digital natives and under 25, India is on track to become the world’s next IT superpower, according to a recent McKinsey study. India may soon have as many as eight million jobs directly or indirectly linked to IT, exporting more than $80 billion in digital products.
Bangalore’s population has doubled in recent years, because of the growth of IT, biotech and similar industries. Many Indians, educated or working abroad, are returning home, drawn by the dynamic tech environment, and by programs such as the national Innovate for Digital India competition. Bangalore is home to the government-funded Startup Warehouse business incubator, and the Indian Institute of Information Technology.
A major difference with Bangalore’s emerging startups is that many of them want to make a difference to the lives of everyday Indians, in a country where many still live in poverty. A number of emerging Bangalore companies are involved in biotech, looking for solutions to medical problems that affect millions of Indians.
Sweden’s capital city is a startup hotspot of Europe, with more billion-dollar startups than any other country in the region, and one of the fastest growing tech venture capital markets anywhere. In addition, almost 20 percent of the country’s workforce is engaged in the tech industry.
The most common job in Stockholm? Programmer.
Sweden has comprehensive cradle-to-grave social safety nets, from a free, world-class educational system, to socialized health care and welfare, to subsided Internet. Stockholm’s city government is also planning to be fossil fuel-free by 2020. All of this adds up to a society with a strong cultural history of exploration (think Vikings) that is open to the outside world and not risk-averse.
Stockholm is also home to STING, a co-working space and incubator that provides business funding and mentorships.
Some of Sweden’s success stories include Klarna Group (e-payments), Acast (podcasting), Truecaller (caller ID) and Lifesum (health).
London’s booming tech scene began to spring up after the global recession, in 2008, caused rents to drop in East London. By 2010, tech was the only industry still growing. East London, which has 50,000 high-tech workers, 30 business accelerators and more than 2,000 startups, is now a booming tech hub.
The city as a whole contains more than 5,000 tech companies. The British government started a series of schemes to lure tech talent to England, including an Exceptional Talent Visa, an Enterprise Investment Scheme and a Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme.
Global tech companies, such as Amazon, Facebook, Google, Cisco and Microsoft, have all set up regional centers in London. The city is also home to the Innovation Warehouse, a co-working incubator for digital startups, which offers them access to a network of angel investors and mentors.
Tech accelerators, such as TechStars and Seedcamp, and incubators such as TechHub and Wayra UK, Rainmaking Colab and Impact Hub Westminster have all opened in London, fueling the startup scene.
The UK plan to leave the EU, aka Brexit, is likely to have a strong impact on the London tech scene. Currently, about 35 percent of tech workers in the UK come from outside the country. In the future, facing work restrictions in the UK, European tech talent may choose to go elsewhere; France and Germany, who remain part of the EU, are both making a big push to lure such workers to their countries.
In addition, many global tech giants are expanding operations in Europe. This may mean that not only will European tech talent choose to stay in the EU, but also many British workers may consider moving to Europe, despite needing visas to live and work in the EU.
Ranked as the top tech city in Australia by global real estate company Savills, Melbourne is also considered one of the world’s most livable cities. It comes in high on Savill’s City Buzz and Wellness Index.
One factor that makes Melbourne a fast-growing tech hub is a “supportive sense of community” for startups, according to Deakin University IT Professor Robin Doss. Both the state and federal governments are creating initiatives, such as the State of Victoria’s partnership with Stone & Chalk, a fintech (financial technology) accelerator and YBF Ventures, a fintech hub in Melbourne’s Central Business District (CBD), as well as providing research funding.
Numerous co-working spaces have sprung up across Melbourne and the inner suburbs, including a six-story outlet of the global co-working company, WeWork, in the heart of the CBD.
Global tech giants such as IBM, Google and Infosys have all opened regional centers in the city.
Toronto is currently the fastest-growing city for tech jobs in North America, having created over 28,000 jobs last year. Tech companies currently rent more than a third of all downtown office space.
Toronto already has a reputation as a leading center for Artificial Intelligence (AI) research. The Canadian government is ramping up AI funding to keep homegrown talent from going overseas. The Canadian government has launched joint ventures, with corporate and banking partners, to set up programs, such as the Vector Institute for Artificial Intelligence and the Mars Discovery District, a city-based tech startup incubator.
General Motors is planning a research center for self-driving cars in the city, and Thomson Reuters will be opening a center for cognitive computing.
Toronto’s tech scene also focuses on the health care industry. Success stories include Rthm, a wellness app, and Muse, a meditation app that uses brain-sensing technology.
Toronto is also embracing “clean tech.” New startups are providing solutions to environmental challenges, such as industrial wastewater management and lowering the carbon footprint of private homes by using smart thermostats.
Seoul, South Korea
This city has become one of the most affluent, high-tech cities in the world, and is widely acclaimed as a model for future high-tech cities. Residents are often the first users of new and emerging technology. This city of 10 million people contains 20 percent of the entire country’s population and is still growing rapidly.
Seoul is also home to a smart subway system that features driverless trains, a scannable app for your smartphone that ends the need for buying tickets and free wi-fi.
Companies in Seoul file more patents than almost any other city in the world, according to 2thinknow. Many now-standard and emerging technologies got their start in this Asian capital.