When you’re growing your startup, there’s something to be said for the old-fashioned meet and greet. Whether you’re scouting potential investors, suppliers, or customers, making connections with people who can help take your business to the next level is often easier done with a handshake and a smile than an email and an emoticon.
However, hitting the streets of large cities to chat over coffee can be daunting and expensive for cash-strapped startups. Anywhere you visit must have a swell of potential customers to market to, investors to help grow your company, and partners for you to work with. If you have these in a city (and can meet with them during your trip), you’re going to improve your chances of yielding a higher ROI.
Here are a few places that can deliver on these needs without breaking the bank:
- Las Vegas
Sin City is bursting with resources and conferences — one of which is HackerX. Held this past spring in Las Vegas, the speed dating-style event connects companies with promising developers. If selected, you’ll have the chance to not only recruit, but also network with the other companies at the event.
Incubators such as the one Zappos’ CEO Tony Hsieh started a few years ago are also a great way to jump-start your innovative ideas, receive mentoring, network, etc. Zappos also offers opportunities to learn about its company culture, which you can apply to your business.
- Boulder, Colorado
Boulder is quickly becoming a startup mecca on par with Silicon Valley — largely due to the Techstars accelerator, which has cultivated the city’s startup ecosystem. Brad Feld helped co-found the venture capital firm with one goal in mind: to help entrepreneurs.
“We wanted to try [to] create something in Boulder as an experiment to see if we could knit together the startup community, get more people in the community, and get more startups launched that had the engagement of the local community, ” said Feld.
This presents out-of-towners with opportunities to connect with fellow startup leaders and potential investors.
- Nashville, Tennessee
More than honky-tonk bars, Nashville is consistently rated among the friendliest cities for business in the U.S. Despite the large population, it’s known for its strong sense of community, which makes networking with other business owners and entrepreneurs that much easier.
The Country Music Association started a music-tech accelerator, but the city is also the healthcare hub of America. More than 400 companies call it home and contribute almost $40 billion to the local economy. If your company operates in that space, Nashville is a must-visit. And with numerous available meetups, you’ll find something that fits your budget and your business.
While Austin, Texas, and SXSW garner a ton of attention, the Dallas startup scene has much to offer. The Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex is home to more Fortune 500 companies than anywhere outside of New York, and Tech Wildcatters is bringing many of them together in its Corporate Innovation Network.
If you’re not ready to talk corporate yet, there are more than a dozen other accelerators to visit. The nonprofit Dallas Entrepreneur Center offers public tours, but if you want to practice your pitch or get feedback, you can also apply to present as part of its 1 Million Cups program. The city made major strides in 2015, and with oil and gas investors looking to profit elsewhere, more money will be flowing into the area’s startups in 2016.
Why spend a large chunk of your startup budget on traveling to New York or Silicon Valley when you can explore these budget-friendly cities that still offer excellent long-term opportunities?
Danielle Piergallini is a strategic partnerships manager at American Airlines. Her team is focused on helping businesses through Business Extra, a complimentary business travel rewards and incentives program designed to help small and mid-sized companies reduce their travel costs.