WSJ’s Picks Top 50 Start-Ups of 2012. But Where’s the Midwest?

As we reported last Monday, Chicago has the potential to become a burgeoning new start-up community, yet the  Wall Street Journal’s top 50 start-ups for 2012 seems to think otherwise. The list, which is supposed to specifically “identify lesser-known start-ups,” overlooks Chicago and the entire Midwest, the only region in the US without at least one representative on the list.

California dominates the top 50 with a sprinkling of offerings from the northeast and a few outliers in the northwest and the rest of the states. Regardless, a look at reporting from the last year suggests that the interest in Chicago seems to only be growing. A Forbes article depicts Chicago as “at the beginning of a boom” and a New York Times post hails River North as “nexus of dining, nightlife and, most recently, an aspiring rival to Silicon Valley.”  In 2011 almost 200 new tech start-ups were founded, which means more than one new start-up every two days.

Chicago entrepreneurs have been proactive in creating more buzz. Built In Chicago, an initiative founded in 2010 by 25 Chicagoland entrepreneurs, provides resources, news, networking opportunities, events, and more. Their blog is an effective balance of posts on information for local entrepreneurs and articles hoping to highlight Chicago on the national radar. Recent posts cover national media interest in the Chicago tech scene and a local HR tech conference announcement.

A closer look at the type of start-ups covered on the list might explain why the Wall Street Journal passed over Chicago even after writing an article earlier this year entitled “A Start-Up Ecosystem Forms in Chicago.” Authors Sarah E. Needleman and Owen Fletcher note that successful and growing Chicago start-ups are mostly “digital-tech companies” and they end the article with their own list of  “Five Hot Chicago Start-Ups,” all of which are tech-based. In contrast, the top 50 list focuses a surprising amount of attention on hardware-based start-ups instead. Half of the top ten companies are in fields like health care and business and financial services rather than IT.

The list opens the floor to many questions. Is the absence of the Midwest the result of a more tech-based start-up community or age-old bias against “fly-over” country? Is 2012 still a bit ahead of the start-up boom and will we see Chicago dominate the list in 2013? Weigh in with your thoughts today!

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