If you want to build a ranking of top startup cities, there are several ways to do it: number of tech startups per capita, number of total startups, amount of venture dollars, even percentage of businesses with a Facebook page. These measures focus on counting corporations and dollars, but those are results, not inputs.

The single biggest input that determines the success of a startup is the quality of its human capital. If you want to measure the quality of a startup ecosystem five years ago, count the number of companies it has today. If you want to predict the quality of a startup ecosystem five years from now, measure its human capital.

But how do you measure startup human capital?

Turns out, it’s not actually that hard. Meetups are where people in tech get together to network, talk shop, and learn from each other. If you go to Philly tech meetups, you can meet Josh Kopelman without needing to get through his spam filter. If you go to our AngularJS meetup, you can learn about an amazing javascript framework from some of its most active users.

Meetups are human capital factories. If you want to measure the human capital of a startup city, you measure its meetup activity.

We’ve done just that. Using Meetup’s public API, we’ve pulled data on every tech meetup in the entire world. In this post, we’ll share what we’ve learned and how your city stacks up.

A note on the data. For this analysis, we used Meetup’s publicly accessible API, downloaded the data for every global meetup in the technology category, and analyzed it in RJMetrics. If you’re interested in running analysis like this on your data, sign up for a free trial. While we focus on the US technology scene in this post, you can find meetups almost anywhere in the world on nearly any topic you could imagine.

Technologists Love To Meet Up

The tech industry has been meeting up forever. It was “hobbyists” like Hooke, Newton, and Wren, talking shop, drinking coffee and smoking opium in the Royal Society who ushered in The Enlightenment.

Historically, these gatherings of the geek-elite have been closely-knit groups of personal associations, but that started to change in 2001.

It’s significant that Meetup started in New York City and not Silicon Valley. The dot com collapse left many companies in the North East shuttering their doors, and without a strong core of established technology companies to turn to, thousands of technologists found themselves hunting for jobs. There was a need for community, and for a central organizing platform.

Meetup was born in this environment. Since 2002, Meetup has grown in lock-step with the tech scene. Today, the number of technology meetups is growing faster than ever (89% in 2013 alone!):

Top 20 International Cities

Globally, there are 16,155 technology meetups, claiming a membership of 3,734,033. (All membership data presented in this post is based on a sum of the count of members for each group. It does not represent a count of distinct members across all groups. If you are a member of five meetups, you show up as five memberships.) 2,521,402 of those memberships are within the US, or 67% of the total.

While it’s tempting to claim that this represents a dominant lead in the global tech scene, we don’t think the data supports this conclusion. Meetup is a US-based company, and its usage is therefore significantly slanted based on product decisions and go-to-market strategies that are inherently localized to the US.

While it’s not accurate to compare international cities to the US, there are interesting insights to be gleaned from international usage. Here are the top 20 international cities, ranked by total meetup membership:

CityTotal MembershipRank
London, GB210,1481
Toronto, CA73,4762
Tel Aviv-Yafo, IL63,6993
Paris, FR52,7894
Vancouver, CA52,3665
Sydney, AU47,1526
Melbourne, AU38,8887
Bangalore, IN37,9638
Berlin, DE32,6529
Amsterdam, NL30,90210
Stockholm, SE28,34911
Oslo, NO23,30612
Pune, IN16,69013
Singapore, SG16,61214
Madrid, ES15,94715
Brisbane, AU15,03316
Hyderabad, IN14,66517
Auckland, NZ13,11518
Barcelona, ES12,80019
Budapest, HU12,71220

This list matches up fairly closely with our preconceived notions of the international tech scene, but we were a little surprised by a couple of things:

  • Dublin didn’t make the cut. For all its reputation for growth in the technology community, it's still most famous as an international tax haven. Its membership comes in at 10,007, putting it 24th internationally.
  • India has three cities in the top 20: Hyderabad, Pune, and Bangalore. This is more cities in the top 20 than any other country.
  • Budapest outdid Vienna. While Vienna often takes the lead economically between these two neighboring cities, its tech scene is lagging at 4,508 members, putting it at 46th.

Membership by US State

As mentioned, it’s not accurate to compare international cities to US cities, but it’s totally fair to evaluate US states and cities’ tech scenes by their meetup activity. Here’s what the picture looks like:

New York and California are well out in front, with the usual suspects following behind. In fact, California and New York are so dominant that they have more meetup memberships than the rest of the country put together.

Membership by City

But grouping New York City in with the rest of the state isn’t particularly useful: 90% of the membership for the entire state is located within NYC. 88% of Massachusetts’ 137,215 memberships are located within Boston and Cambridge.

If all politics is local, then the same holds true for tech. It’s your city that matters. The city fosters the universities, economic policies, and determines the quality and cost of living. And it houses the human capital. Commuting from Albany to Yonkers isn’t particularly fun; commuting from DUMBO to Soho is no problem. Human connections and human capital are formed at the city level.

Take a look at the map of the US, again, but with the cities highlighted this time. The size and color of the circles illustrate the number of meetup memberships in the corresponding city. The tech community—America’s largest engine of economic growth—is concentrated in the Northeast and in California.

Overall Ranking by City

In our analysis of US tech cities, we started by taking the top 30 cities by meetup group membership. Once a city made that cut, we then ranked it by four factors:

  • Total # of tech meetup memberships
    The raw size of the tech community.
  • Tech industry density
    We normalized the raw # of memberships by city population to get tech industry density. This gives an indication of how concentrated the tech scene is in a given city.
  • Total number of meetup groups
    While the number of memberships gives an indication of raw size, the number of groups gives an indication of diversity. The more groups, the more diverse the topic areas.
  • Percent growth in number of meetup groups in 2013
    Fast growth indicates potential future leaders.

We combined the rankings on each individual factor to arrive at a single ranking of every tech scene in the US. Let’s run through what we found.

Top Cities by Membership

City Total Membership Rank
New York, NY 481,584 1
San Francisco, CA 387,904 2
Chicago, IL 97,494 3
Washington, DC 91,656 4
Palo Alto, CA 88,270 5
Boston, MA 70,902 6
Los Angeles, CA 66,183 7
Mountain View, CA 65,990 8
Seattle, WA 63,664 9
Austin, TX 53,993 10

New York wins this category, which shouldn’t be surprising. NYC is 8x larger by population than San Francisco, the only other city that comes close. New York is also home to the largest single tech meetup in the world, coming in at 38,681 members at the time of this analysis.

Top Cities by Density

City Membership (% of Population) Rank
Palo Alto, CA 149 1
Mountain View, CA 92 2
Cambridge, MA 48 3
San Francisco, CA 48 4
Santa Monica, CA 36 5
Boulder, CO 31 6
Sunnyvale, CA 22 7
Washington, DC 15 8
Santa Clara, CA 15 9
Boston, MA 12 10

It turns out that Palo Alto is the only city in the country to have more memberships than citizens. Six of the top ten cities in this category are in California. While NYC may have San Francisco beat when it comes to raw membership within city limits, Silicon Valley is clearly the densest concentration of technology folks in the world. To put this into perspective, NYC comes in at 5% in this category, ranking 14.

Top Cities by Number of Groups

City Total Group Count Rank
New York, NY 954 1
San Francisco, CA 744 2
Chicago, IL 323 3
Austin, TX 228 4
Seattle, WA 223 5
Washington, DC 212 6
Los Angeles, CA 194 7
Atlanta, GA 181 8
Boston, MA 179 9
San Diego, CA 156 10

Austin and Seattle move into the mix on this list, making up in diversity what they were lacking in raw membership.

Top Cities by 2013 Growth

City % Growth 2013 Rank
Portland, OR 118 1
Minneapolis, MN 98 2
Houston, TX 98 3
Baltimore, MD 91 4
Pittsburgh, PA 90 5
Dallas, TX 88 6
Seattle, WA 85 7
Denver, CO 76 8
Orlando, FL 74 9
Santa Monica, CA 73 10

Portland more than doubled its number of meetup groups in a year—impressive. And who knew that Minneapolis, Houston, Baltimore, and Pittsburgh were homes to the fastest growing tech scenes? While these cities most likely won’t be unseating the giants anytime soon, they’re worth watching in 2014 and beyond.

San Francisco is Clearly King

Technology isn’t a competition, but everyone loves a good rivalry. The debate about Silicon Valley vs. Silicon Alley has been going on for years, but our research shows that the Valley is still clearly dominant. Even excluding the Valley, San Francisco by itself beats out NYC in our rankings.

Curious about where your city is today or what the future might hold? The interactive chart below ranks all major cities by the four criteria defined above and adjusts for the relative importance of each. Click on the column headings to sort the data. Have fun!

City Pop Total Members Members (% of Pop) % Growth 2013 Total Meetup Count (now) Members of Largest Group Overall Score Overall Rank
Portland, OR 557706 22674 4 118 114 2009 70.5 14
Minneapolis, MN 382605 15041 4 98 95 1101 84 17
Houston, TX 2242193 15384 1 98 95 1046 96 22
Baltimore, MD 636919 13772 2 91 45 4451 111.5 27
Pittsburgh, PA 310037 10971 4 90 71 861 100 23
Dallas, TX 1279910 23114 2 88 108 1679 87 19
Seattle, WA 598541 63664 11 85 223 3990 39 3
Denver, CO 598707 31731 5 76 152 1276 62 10
Orlando, FL 230519 10566 5 74 65 1325 106 26
Santa Monica, CA 87664 31824 36 73 81 3032 69 13
Miami, FL 413201 10645 3 73 64 1346 115 28
Austin, TX 757688 53993 7 71 228 2628 46 5
San Francisco, CA 808976 387904 48 70 744 10129 23 1
Philadelphia, PA 1447395 29106 2 69 102 4383 92.5 21
San Jose, CA 948279 38049 4 69 92 3587 82.5 16
Santa Clara, CA 110200 16084 15 65 57 3652 100 24
New York, NY 8363710 481584 6 64 954 38681 34 2
Boulder, CO 94171 28782 31 64 88 10297 84 18
Washington, DC 591833 91656 15 61 212 8680 42 4
Charlotte, NC 687456 10049 1 60 66 957 130 30
Raleigh, NC 392552 13056 3 58 64 1198 122.5 29
Cambridge, MA 105596 51160 48 56 108 4577 64 11
Boston, MA 609023 70902 12 55 179 5695 55.5 6
San Diego, CA 1279329 30041 2 54 156 2073 87 20
Atlanta, GA 537958 50612 9 52 181 2669 67 12
Mountain View, CA 71348 65990 92 51 134 10634 58 8
Chicago, IL 2853114 97494 3 48 323 3472 57 7
Sunnyvale, CA 132109 29586 22 41 57 6301 104 25
Los Angeles, CA 3833995 66183 2 40 194 5157 78 15
Palo Alto, CA 59395 88270 149 38 119 13787 58 9

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  • Rick Nucci

    Great post!!

    Prob. gets way more complicated, and API’s may not exist, but would be interesting to factor in data from TicketLeap and Eventbrite…but prob. too hard to tell what is a tech meetup and what isn’t. Maybe I just answered my own comment ;)

    • http://rjmetrics.com/ Tristan Handy

      It’s a great point–there are definitely other data sources that could be used to analyze this same question. Not a bad idea to slowly pick off more of them, and then to eventually combine into a meta-analysis (did I just say that??). Thanks for the idea :)

  • Harlan Harris

    This is really nice work. As a suggestion, to deal with the fact that many tech hubs are in sets of cities (the valley, the DC region, the Seattle region), you may want to collapse down to what the US Census Bureau calls Metropolitan Statistical Areas. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metropolitan_statistical_area

    • http://rjmetrics.com/ Tristan Handy

      Thanks, glad you liked it! I actually went down that road a bit, so I totally agree with you. I ended up not pursuing it because I had a hard time linking up the city data that meetup provides with the metro area data. It’s definitely doable, but I couldn’t figure out how to do it without it taking way too long. I could definitely try to look into it more; we’ll be publishing more with this dataset moving forwards.

      • Bill Piel

        Why constrain yourself to arbitrary boundaries? Just grab the lat,lon coordinates for each meetup’s exact location, then apply a clustering algorithm. Simple.

  • http://www.loveseatapp.com/ Chris Stanchak

    Woohooo San Diego made the # of groups list! :) Seriously, there are a lot of meetups (some micro) here.

    “Meetups every day” – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=za0nyYbp6is&t=1m11s

    RJ Metrics continues to impress. Business intelligence.

    • http://rjmetrics.com/ Tristan Handy

      Hah. Thanks Chris :D

  • http://about.me/zackmansfield zackmansfield

    Tristan, this is really cool analysis. Nice work.

    • http://rjmetrics.com/ Tristan Handy

      Thanks Zach!

  • http://appmagma.com/ Justin Furniss

    Awesome write up again! Great work. We need to get Philly up in some of those lists!

  • http://twitter.com/davidfraga David Fraga

    Super interesting data, but I question the conclusion. While the density view is interesting, I question why the raw number of meetup members isn’t given as much focus in this interpretation: Why should the fact that the NY tech meetup community has the most members be discounted just because it is surrounded by a larger city?

    Obviously there are other factors beyond Meetup membership to consider when judging the quality of tech ecosystems, but all things being equal, if there WERE more technologists of equal caliber in New York than in San Francisco, but if New Yorkers had millions of other folks around them from other industries as well, I don’t see why the conclusion would be that the SF ecosystem would be superior.

    • http://rjmetrics.com/ Tristan Handy

      This is a very reasonable point. However, if you take your argument to an extreme, it breaks down in the same way that homeopathic medicine breaks down—one part per trillion of active ingredient doesn’t actually do anything. So density clearly matters at some level.

      When you sit down at a cafe and randomly 50% of the other people there are talking about their startups, you can’t help but live and breathe the industry. Human relationships are built at barbeques and flag football games, not just meetups, and when the density of tech people / total people is high, those relationships will often turn professional, even if that wasn’t the intention. This human relationship density can’t help but foster the growth of new startups.

      PS: Thanks for the reply :D

      • http://twitter.com/davidfraga David Fraga

        Fair, but the extreme analogy on the other side is also a challenge: 10 people who live on an island, 100% of which only think about tech, is not as powerful a MILLLION tech people surrounded by another 3 million people from other industries.

        I’d also contend that, as software continues to eat the world (http://on.wsj.com/1gt4wRH), the line between “tech” and other industries is increasingly blurring. Surrounding a given set of technologists with a diversity of industries / problems to solve may strengthen the impact of that group rather than diluting it.

        Of course, this argument doesn’t really matter, but it sure is fun! :)

        • http://rjmetrics.com/ Tristan Handy

          Yeah. As I’m reading this, I’m remembering that one of the reasons I decided to release the raw data in that table was so that everyone could decide for themselves what the right answer was. I should have made that more clear in the post actually. I may edit later tonight.

          • http://www.valideval.com/ Adam Rentschler

            Your argument is predicated on the notion that MeetUp Statistics = Human Capital = Startup Success. You gloss over the HUGE leap you’re taking in saying “A = B = C, so therefore off we go the MeetUp API for the answers.”

            I think a lot of your readers would appreciate a presentation of interesting potential correlations rather than leaping to the causation claim that thriving business for MeetUp leads to amazing economic development for startups.

          • http://rjmetrics.com/ Tristan Handy

            I agree that that is definitely the structure of my argument, although I don’t agree that I glossed over anything.

            Do you feel that technologists meeting up to talk about both technology and the formation of technology companies has no causal relationship with the forming of technology companies? I would like to hear that argument, as it certainly runs counter to the narrative within the tech community itself.

          • http://www.valideval.com/ Adam Rentschler

            Reality is MUCH more complicated than the simple and difficult-to-argue-with assertion that people talking about things leads to people doing things.

            Equally difficult to argue with: success has more to do with talent, experience and access to capital than bumping into random people at a tech event.

            You measure a proxy for collisions and imply that the proxy you’ve measured is causally related to vibrancy of startup ecosystems.

            I think chemical reactions are a good metaphor for what is actually happening in startup communities. You’re measuring just the “pressure” in the “vessels” of cities. Sure, pressure matters, but so does the driving forces of the potential reactions. So does the presence or absence of a catalyst for the desired reaction. So does temperature. So do the ratios of the ingredients. So does the energy required of or released by the reactions.

            Don’t measure pressure and imply you’ve solved the puzzle.

          • http://rjmetrics.com/ Tristan Handy

            I think that’s a great metaphor. I certainly didn’t try to imply that I had modeled out every aspect of the reaction. But I do believe that people are the biggest part of the equation. The primary ingredient that isn’t people is capital, and that’s increasingly location-agnostic (RJMetrics is a great example of that).

            Expertise, experience, relationships, appetite…these are all the “people” side of the equation, and meetup count, membership, membership density, and growth, are reasonable proxies (not perfect measures) for them.

            Thanks for the comments Adam :) I love it when research we do sparks real debate.

          • http://www.valideval.com/ Adam Rentschler

            Agreed. 95% of the “chemistry” is people and people-related factors! At the risk of abusing the metaphor further, making those “reactions” both more efficient and more effective is what my company does, so I’m a little extra sensitive to the notion that putting the right people in the same room and saying “go” is all you need to accomplish to foster a thriving community ;-)

            Loved the discussion. (BTW, we’re hoping to start doing some business with coPhilly, so be on the look out for us. It’s exciting to see scrappy towns like Philly & Denver making some waves.)

            Have a great weekend,
            A

        • http://www.thisisgoingtobebig.com ceonyc

          Could not agree more!

  • Mike Krupit

    Interesting and fun post. Thanks!
    My one challenge is that tech and startup aren’t synonymous. There is a huge tech community outside of startups. While certainly there is a fair amount of overlap, and a majority of statups are tech, not all techies are at startups. In Philly, there aren’t a ton of tech jobs – period. But in the cities that ranked high for tech meetups, there are a lot of non-startup techies.

  • blackylawless

    Cities, when considered collectively, one notes that the Bay Area’s strengths are remarkable. When one couples these networking stats with recent regional venture cap stats (q1 2014 from CB Insights or PW Moneytree: %50 nationwide vent cap to Bay Area–representing increasing concentration of vcap to BA over last 25 years), as well as 2013 patent origin stats, the Bay Area’s dominance appears to be staggering.

  • Heather Lopez

    Curious as to why Miami did not tie with Santa Monica for 10th place in fastest growth, even though both were 73%.

    • http://rjmetrics.com/ Tristan Handy

      There are more decimal places than that in the actual results…we didn’t go to 10 decimal places to improve readability ;)

  • Marina Zd

    Interesting write-up, but this data should be seriously questioned as I know many techies who are “virtual” members of groups in other cities (just for purposes of being “in the know”). For example, I live in Paris right now, but I’m a member of NYC, SF, Boston, LA and Palo Alto and other Tech Meetup groups. Also, there are other active tech groups that are not on Meetup, for example, StartInParis.

    • http://rjmetrics.com/ Tristan Handy

      Hey Marina! Thanks for your comments.

      Meetup data is certainly not exhaustive, it’s just a sample: there are plenty of tech community activities that aren’t measured here. We do feel like this sample is a representative one for the purposes of this analysis, even if it’s not perfect.

      The “art” of analysis is in using statistics to draw conclusions from imperfect data (since perfect data rarely exists).

      • Marina Zd

        I agree, it is hard to find perfect data, but in order to get more truthful results, please eliminate repetitive members that were counted multiple times not only within their home area but globally. I’m a member of 20+tech Meetups around the world and I’m not your only exception.
        As the organizer of Santa Monica New Tech Meetup group, I can confirm that majority of our members do not live in Santa Monica (other towns or LA counties), but they were counted as Santa Monicans which seriously inflates per capita numbers. Same with NYC Tech Meetup, I bet at least 40% of their members don’t live in NYC or NY State.

        • http://rjmetrics.com/ Tristan Handy

          The reason we feel comfortable with these results is that we have no reason to believe that the effect you’re mentioning—which I’m sure exists—impacts one city (or class of cities) any more than any others. In order for sampling error to distort the conclusions, we would have to have some reason to believe it impacted one part of the sample more than others.

          Hope that makes sense.

  • Bruce Flannigan

    Vegas is jumping up and down waving their arms because they feel women have some dominant presence in the tech industry here. I can say first hand that unless there’s some hidden region of Vegas I don’t know of, that analysis is severely flawed.

    There is a news headline here today that now reads “Las Vegas top in the nation for women in tech”.. LOL – this is based solely on the analysis of people who have signed up for Meetup.com – not exactly a reliable sampling to claim “top in the nation”. (For the record, the media here is desperate for attention and things like this bring a lot of false hope.)

  • http://tymathe.ws/ Tyler

    Late to the discussion, but anecdotally, people in St Louis don’t seem to use Meetup.com. It seems to me that email is used a lot.