Editor’s Note: Jim Breyer is the founder and CEO of Breyer Capital, a premier venture capital firm based in Menlo Park, California and Austin, Texas. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own.
More than a year ago now, I left the Bay Area for Austin, Texas. It wasn’t an easy decision. I’ve spent three-plus decades embedded in Silicon Valley, investing in some of the region’s top tech companies. With its entrepreneurial culture, top-tier academic institutions and countless tech success stories, there wasn’t a better place in the world than the Bay Area to be an investor.
But, after lots of planning and due diligence, I decided that Austin was the best place for the next era of my venture capital and venture philanthropy career. With early, but compelling, signals that Austin is emerging as the next great tech hub, I couldn’t be more excited to play a role in helping another part of the country reach its potential. I believe there is an opportunity to get in near the ground floor and build something truly enduring.
Other friends from the Bay Area, like Palantir co-founder Joe Lonsdale, Dropbox CEO Drew Houston and Tesla’s Elon Musk, have made similar moves, along with many other tech industry leaders, so I’m not surprised that a so-called “Bay Area exodus” has become a widely reported trend.
But instead of focusing on the positives of Austin, many exodus narratives have focused on problems with the Bay Area. While critics make some fair points about rising living costs and government overreach, I would argue that Silicon Valley and Austin both have bright futures ahead. The things that made Silicon Valley special are not going anywhere. The Bay Area will continue to be a global hub of innovation that attracts courageous entrepreneurs, benefits from world-class institutions and nurtures talent from leading tech companies — even as Austin offers a remarkable new frontier of opportunity.
New Austinites all have different reasons for why they moved here, of course. My decision to start Breyer Capital Austin, for example, has more to do with Austin’s strengths than any of the Bay Area’s flaws.
For starters, Austin, more than any other city in the country, encourages a culture of interdisciplinary collaboration. Because the city has catered to so many types of professionals, and not just technologists, the depth of talent here is unique. Artists, entrepreneurs, doctors and professors, all at the top of their trade, frequently choose to build things together. By breaking down silos and embracing novel approaches to company-building, Austin’s diverse entrepreneurs will usher in a new era of growth for the city, state and country. I couldn’t be more excited to be investing in health care AI companies and fin-tech companies that have a consumer media backbone. The best founding teams are multifaceted and versatile, and Austin has every type of entrepreneur that a great company needs. This kind of interdisciplinary entrepreneurship will help Austin companies flourish.
Austin has attracted and will continue to attract young, brilliant talent because of its comparative affordability, outdoor culture and professional development opportunities. This vast pool of expertise is contributing to a remarkably robust climate of innovation. With Tesla, Facebook, Apple, Google, Oracle and other leading companies moving to or expanding in Austin, the entrepreneurial ecosystem will be bolstered when talent from these companies breaks away to start new ventures. Some of my best investments have been in entrepreneurs who gained valuable experience at an outstanding established company before starting their own. Five years from now, Austin will benefit from many tech company alums eager to leverage their expertise to tackle some of the world’s most pressing problems.
Austin also has impressive educational institutions. The University of Texas at Austin has a history of attracting great minds, like my friend Michael Dell, and I expect that university students, post-docs and professors in IT and biosciences will found and join transformational companies in Austin. With Michael and his wife Susan’s help, I’ve learned more about the interdisciplinary work at Dell Seton Medical Center where breakthroughs in computational biology are helping doctors better diagnose and treat cancer. Strong academic institutions have an outsized role to play in tech hubs. I expect these bright spots in Austin to help the city prosper and grow.
Lastly, Austin entrepreneurs are among the most impact-driven in the world. The city, in a push to “Keep Austin Weird,” emphasizes thinking outside the box. It encourages a frontier spirit where founders take big problems into their own hands — I have seen more impact investing pitches in Austin than any other geography. Austin founders and investors understand that we have an opportunity to make female and racially diverse leaders part of the next generation of entrepreneurial success. Furthermore, the majority of people at startups here are determined to make the world a better place. Whether that means starting and maintaining a B-Corp or attacking a problem like climate change, Austin entrepreneurs are eager to make a positive difference. I think Austin founders will offer indisputable proof that companies can simultaneously earn money for shareholders and improve society.
Since arriving in early 2020, I have backed more than 10 Austin-based companies, and Breyer Capital Austin is just getting started. At the same time, I couldn’t be more excited to continue investing in world-changing Silicon Valley companies. Opportunity is not a zero-sum game, and I predict that a decade from now, both the Bay Area and Austin will be hitting it out of the park.