By Emma Hickey
Hollywood is a place, but it’s also an adjective and even a state of being. Broadway is a street in New York City, and beyond that it’s become shorthand for theater, musicals, and performances. The Watergate Hotel is in Washington, DC, but affixing “-gate” to the end of a word brings about a set of connotations completely unrelated to the hospitality industry. Every so often, something extraordinary or unprecedented happens in a place, and the name of that place transcends its geographic bounds and becomes a word in its own right. It becomes shorthand for the thing that transpired there, completely divorced from its original purpose as a location marker. That very phenomena has taken hold of “Silicon Valley.”
When we hear the words Silicon Valley, we no longer think of the section of the Santa Clara Valley where silicon-based semiconductors were manufactured. We don’t just think of the swath of land that encompasses the Bay Area in Northern California. We think of an idea, we think of startups, tech companies, young entrepreneurs and we think of money. And when we start calling other places Silicon-this or Silicon-that, it’s those associations we’re capitalizing on. Everyone wants to be a Silicon-something these days, but only a few have made the term stick.
Silicon Beach is Southern California’s answer to their northern counterpart’s tech-focused region. While there are tech companies coming out of Silicon Beach, there are also tourism, hospitality, entertainment and fashion-based startups popping up in the SoCal sun. Technically, Silicon Beach refers to the Venice Beach and Santa Monica areas, but in practice it’s used to refer to Los Angeles as a whole. The companies here tend to skew a bit young—and, some would say, hipper—than those in Silicon Valley. Snap, Inc., Whisper, Dollar Shave Club, Hulu and Nasty Gal are all based in Silicon Beach, and it was Buzzfeed’s choice for their west coast offices.
New York City is the epicenter of so many things, but the technology/start-up scene isn’t one of them. Still, the city that never sleeps wasn’t too far behind the curve when it came to the tech industry. By the 1980’s, Silicon Valley was the clear center of the computer industry, and not too long after, during the dot com boom of the 1990’s, NYC’s Flatiron District earned its Silicon Alley nickname. It took a bit of time after the dot com bust for the scene to regain its footing, but now it’s home to Buzzfeed’s headquarters, Etsy, Vice Media, Glossier, Peloton and Google’s second largest office worldwide. Silicon Alley may not have been the first area in the US known for tech companies and startups, but it was the first area to make a play on the Silicon Valley name, and that’s got to count for something.
It was Domo CEO Josh James who coined the term “Silicon Slopes” to help brand Utah’s Salt Lake City, Provo and Odgen as the next great region for tech entrepreneurs. And it’s working. According to The New York Times, “The region has given rise to at least five companies valued at more than $1 billion. The concentration of these so-called unicorns is surpassed only by California, New York and Massachusetts, according to CB Insights, which tracks venture capital investment.” Silicon Slopes is only a 2 hour flight from the eponymous Californian valley and the state of Utah is working hard to recreate their winning combination of a research university, venture capitalist money, and an abundance of entrepreneurs. Utah may not have its own Stanford, but the state did launch the Utah Science and Technology Research Initiative to invest over $100 million into state universities. Venture capitalists are noticing Utah’s tech scene too, and as a result venture capital investments have risen 54% in the state. That, combined with being the home of Adobe, Overstock.com, EA and HireVue, keeps Utah firmly on the tech and startup scenes map.
This one’s a bit looser—Silicon Prairie has been used to refer to a number of different places across the US, including Dallas and Fort Worth, the greater Chicago area, Nebraska, Iowa, South Dakota, Kansas, Minnesota, North Dakota and Missouri. The name was most loudly given to Indiana, though, by none other than former governor and current Vice President Mike Pence. His declaration was prompted by Determine, a cloud platform formerly based in Silicon Valley, relocating from Silicon Valley to Carmel, IN. Salesforce also opened a regional headquarters in Indiana over the last few years and the state government has offered thousands of dollars in conditional tax credits to companies thinking about moving to Indiana. Indiana clearly has its sights on distinguishing itself as the One True Silicon Prairie, and it looks like they may do it.
Used to describe Phoenix, Arizona, the combination of low living costs and high numbers of students, colleges and universities, and people holding Bachelor degrees makes this area an attractive location for tech startups. In fact, 41 of Inc.’s 5000 companies are based in Arizona, including Tuft & Needle, Carvana and GoDaddy. Though not everyone is a fan of the Silicon Desert moniker, there’s no denying that Phoenix has a prominent place in the tech industry.
Silicon Forest encompasses Portland, Beaverton and Hillboro in Oregon and the companies there are largely technology hardware manufacturers, like Hewlett-Packard Co, Xerox and Epson. Though often overshadowed by their Silicon Valley neighbors not too far south, the region was named Forbes Magazine’s Best Place for Business and Careers in 2017. The area’s startup scene has been bolstered in recent years by college graduates drawn to the outdoor opportunities and the environmentally-friendly attitudes often associated with Portland. The job opportunities at big corporations like Nike and Intel don’t hurt either when it comes to drawing talent to the state and creating an impressive pipeline of future entrepreneurs. Puppet, Ruby Receptionist and Cloudability are three of the biggest startups to watch out for in Silicon Forest.
The greater Austin, Texas region has become known as Silicon Hills thanks to the growing number of startups and tech companies popping up in the rolling hills of Austin’s west side. Like other areas on this list, Austin is much more affordable than California, and like Silicon Valley, it has a nearby research university attracting top minds to the area, but it also has something none of the other Silicon-inspired areas have, and that includes Silicon Valley. Austin has the cool factor. Home to a thriving arts and live music scene, numerous bars and world renowned food, plus the famous film, media and music festival South by Southwest, Austin is America’s “It” city of today.
By the looks of it, Silicon-something is quickly becoming one of the most popular nicknames in the US. Before you know it, we might even start naming our children, cats and dogs Silicon, too. Ultimately, though, there’s only one Silicon Valley and others may want to start thinking about forging their own identities instead of playing off of theirs. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but in an industry that prizes innovation, the best thing for cities to do may just be to be themselves.