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