There are 16 cities that have raised at least one billion dollars in early-stage capital from 2015-2020. Of those 16 cities, nine of them have less than one million people. If we remove outliers like San Francisco, Boston, and Austin which are well-established hotbeds for startup activity, we are left with Seattle, Atlanta, Denver, Oakland, Washington DC, and Nashville. These six cities have an average population of 630,603: roughly 300,000 less than the estimated population of Fort Worth in 2022. This begs the question: What are these cities doing right from an entrepreneurial perspective that Fort Worth can learn from? In this occasional series, we will analyze the ins and outs of these six cities to determine what aspects of their community Fort Worth can adopt to bolster our entrepreneurial ecosystem.
First, let’s dive into Music City- more commonly known as Nashville, Tennessee.
They’re both big cities with small-town southern hospitality. Both are rooted in country music, trendy western wear, southern cuisine, prominent universities, and historical landmarks. Yet between Fort Worth and Nashville, all cowboy hats are tipped to Nashville for entrepreneurship.
As of 2021, Nashville’s population was an estimated 678,851 while Fort Worth was listed at 935,508. Given that Nashville’s population is notably smaller, how has real estate data company Clever ranked it the 15th best city in America to launch a startup company?
The top five fastest growing companies in 2021 listed in the Inc. 5000 Magazine article are named below as well as their ranking.
- Upperline Health, 90
- Muserk, 779
- Tomahawk Strategic Solutions, 1,008
- FlyteVu, 1,021
- Senior Market Advisors, 1,082
Average Rank Position: 796
- PlayMakar, 228
- Eosera, 753
- Urban Infraconstruction, 1,187
- Koddi, 1,312
- OP2 Labs, 2,755
Average Rank Position: 1,247
As seen above, Nashville has a much higher-ranking average than Fort Worth. Because of this, Nashville’s average growth rate is presumably much higher as well. Furthermore, Nashville had a total of 34 companies make the list in 2021, while Fort Worth only 12. So, what is causing entrepreneurs to build their companies in Nashville as well as have more success than those growing their business in Fort Worth?
Every city faces challenges when starting and growing a business. However, Nashville has implemented a business development service known as The Nashville Entrepreneur Center (EC), led by John Ingram and Stuart McCorter. This entrepreneur center allows entrepreneurs to access the necessary tools and support to grow their businesses. In just 12 years, the EC has helped grow over 10,000 entrepreneurs and generated over $192 million in revenue and led to the creation of over 1,600 jobs.
Nashville is Tennessee’s state capital, while Fort Worth is not. Nashville may have the upper hand because state capitals bring in state elected officials, staff, lobbyists, business leaders, etc. Neither state has a state income tax, but Fort Worth simply isn’t the centralized area of government of Texas. Austin is ranked first in Texas for the highest amount of small business innovation research funding and awards, which is not a coincidence.
Nashville is considered the ‘Petri dish’ for music startups. It’s no wonder, because there’s music everywhere, from people playing on street corners to being in the Country Music Hall of Fame and playing at the Grand Ole Opry. Music is considered Nashville’s second largest job creator, following healthcare. The Chamber of Commerce found that for every 1,000 working-age people in Nashville, 7.8 are music industry jobs. This is drastically higher, as compared to New York being 2.0, Los Angeles at 2.8, and Austin at 2.6. The Bureau of Labor Statistics named Tennessee first for its concentration of music occupations.
The city’s growing tech scene stems from music as well. One of the programs run by The Nashville Entrepreneur Center is the Project Music Accelerator Program, in which they help build music tech startups. Six to eight startups will be in the first class, each receiving $20,000 investments. The factory that produces one-third of all vinyl records on shelves, United Record Pressing, is a key member of Nashville’s Wedgewood-Houston neighborhood. In 2013, the city opened its first subsidized housing designated for artists, Ryman Lofts, which was designed by the Music City Music Council. And in 2014, Rolling Stone magazine opened a location in Nashville.
Nashville is also known for its ‘Nashville Number System,’ which is a type of musical notation that allows those who know how to read it to play with other musicians easily. This allows Nashville to have a stronger local economy whereas another creative talent would have settled someplace else.
Healthy Music City
For obvious reasons, people peg Nashville as a music town. However, the city is home to numerous healthcare advancements and rich historical involvement in healthcare. ‘Healthy Music City’ is home to over 4,000 healthcare companies as well as two medical schools and teaching hospitals. Because of this, Nashville has a firm foundation for health care innovation.
When Covid-19 erupted, there were concerns about hospitals having limited space, funding, and equipment. However, due to Nashville’s heavy emphasis on healthcare, more companies shifted to collaborating with Nashville companies or moved their business there altogether. These thousands of healthcare companies fuel the local community, generating $84 million in global revenue and over 250,000 jobs. Much of Nashville’s venture capital scene sponsors healthcare start-ups.
Furthermore, Nashville created a shift into a centralized US healthcare system with the founding of Hospital Corporation of America (HCA), Hospital Affiliates International, and General Care Corporation. These three large hospital companies from the 1960s, notably HCA, have come to shape the city’s current entrepreneurship.
A College Town
While Fort Worth is home to 12 colleges, Nashville houses 20 universities, six community colleges, and 11 vocational and technical schools. Due to this abundance of academia, Nashville gets an influx of young talent. Post-graduation, students can easily be recruited and hired from a local standpoint.
Within these colleges are various entrepreneurship programs, with significant ones being Belmont and Vanderbilt’s Innovation Center, Wond’ry. Also, the Tennessee Department of Education funds technical training programs in public schools as well, instilling skills in students to prepare them for secondary education. While the TCU Neeley School of Business has a renowned entrepreneurship program, The Princeton Review ranks Belmont as #30 in Top Entrepreneurship Undergraduate Programs and TCU as #37, making it statistically (slightly) better.
Nashville takes on a multitude of nicknames, one of them being ‘Nashvegas.’ Known for not only its music and healthcare, Nashville is also home to Broadway neon lights and bustling nightlife. However, Nashville’s tourism doesn’t stop there. The ‘Athens of the South’ is also home to the Parthenon, a full-scale replica of the original building in Greece, as well as Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage, the Nashville Zoo, Bridgestone Arena, and of course Music Row, Grand Ole Opry, and the Ryman Auditorium.
The popular TV show ‘Nashville’ took in an estimated $20 million in subsidies during its first two seasons alone. Other cities may have music as a part of their culture, but Nashville has built upon it and developed a musical infrastructure within the town.
Altogether, Nashville is a more prominent tourism town than Fort Worth. Granted, Fort Worth is home to the state’s famous stockyards and world renowned museums, but Nashville is more equipped. In 2018, tourism in Tennessee outpaced the nation with $22 billion in travel spending and 119 million visitors. This travel generated 189,757 jobs and $1.81 billion in state and local tax revenue.
The Stockyards are the biggest attraction for tourists in Fort Worth. More than 9.4 million people visit each year, resulting in a $2.4 billion annual economic impact of direct and indirect spending. The Stockyards’ tourism provides over 23,000 jobs in Fort Worth and $598 of tax relief per household. As a city, Fort Worth has an estimated 9.1 million visitors in 2019. This created over 24,000 jobs and $2.6 billion in the annual economic impact of direct and indirect spending, and $638 of tax relief per household.
Nashville’s tourism creates over 150,000 more jobs than Fort Worth, generates almost $20 billion more in revenue, and has over 100 million more visitors each year. Because of this, Nashville’s tourism heavily outweighs that of Fort Worth, and it shows economically.
This one may come as a shock to some since entrepreneurship and friendliness don’t directly go hand in hand. However, according to Conde Nast Traveler, Nashville was ranked as the fourth friendliest city in America. For an entrepreneur who is out location shopping, a generous town equals easier connections. Nashville has a small-town charm to it, and the residents embody that characteristic as well. Nashville is growing out of its phase of solely attracting music businesses, but the musical charm is what is now attracting a variety of businesses, as seen by Nashville’s population growing at a two percent rate.
While Nashville is a great place to start a business, there are always inconsistencies. For instance, Nashville is home to various severe weather threats and natural disasters, as it is a much more prime location for tornadoes and hurricanes.
Meanwhile, while Texas has a null corporate tax rate, Tennessee’s is 6.5%. Texas is more appealing to entrepreneurs looking for a location to build their businesses since most startups establish their businesses on a budget. Additionally, Fort Worth has a lower average housing cost. While the cost of living in Nashville is still 10.2% less than the national average, the area’s cost of living continues to grow higher.
When considering location, culture, tourism, healthcare, academia, and hospitality, Nashville exceeds Fort Worth economically. To lessen the gap between the two cities, here are some things Fort Worth can do to strengthen its entrepreneurial ecosystem.
- Nashville’s tourism creates an overwhelming number of jobs in the city. While Fort Worth can’t easily create new tourism attractions, it can invest more in small businesses that are already created.
- Since tourism accounts for many new generated jobs, Fort Worth could simply work to improve and innovate the existing attractions to increase tourism.
- Nashville attributes much of its economic success to a thriving artist and creative class. The city supports its creatives with a variety of programs and opportunities, from business support to housing solutions. Fort Worth should double-down on supporting our creative community since they will lay the foundation for a thriving local entrepreneurial ecosystem.
- Nashville is home to many entrepreneurial programs, from Vanderbilt and Belmont to The Entrepreneur Center. Fort Worth could work to establish more of these similar programs, as well as hire Innovation Officers to work for the City of Fort Worth.
- Nashville hosts a similar event to Global Entrepreneurship Week North Texas called Nashville Entrepreneur Week. Increasing support and awareness for our local event would help build the ecosystem.
- Fort Worth could work to increase its hospitality by creating more awareness for startup business events and welcoming a bigger population of entrepreneurs and investors through wider event promotion.
Fort Worth is one of the fastest growing cities by population yet regarding its entrepreneurial ecosystem it is underdeveloped. While Fort Worth can’t adopt all of Nashville’s economic charm, it can boost the city’s economy in its own, unique way.
About the Author
Faith Emmitte is a student intern for the Next department at the University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth. Faith will be a first-year student at Texas A&M University, pursuing a BA in Business Administration. Gig ‘Em Ags! All thoughts and opinions are her own and in no way reflect the thoughts and opinions of the HSC.