Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Asheville, NC has a long-held (and well-earned) reputation as a must-see destination. In 2017, Lonely Planet named it the Best Travel Destination in the U.S. Other accolades include being named one of the Best Places to Reinvent Your Life (AARP); Best Small Cities in the U.S. (Condé Nast Traveler); Hippest Cities in the South (Fodor’s); Top 15 Cities in the U.S. (Travel & Leisure); and Top 17 Places to Visit (Harper’s Bazaar, Esquire).
The list of Asheville “top” and “best” rankings goes on, but while most nods tend to focus on the locale, culture, and culinary highlights, the city is beginning to make a name for itself in a whole new category: Entrepreneurship.
Business is booming in Asheville, which has become as much a go-to haven for startups as it is for wayfaring tourists and outdoor enthusiasts. The number of new businesses it produces each year is especially impressive when one considers the city is home to fewer than 100,000 residents and lacks a major research university, though UNC-Asheville is a respectable institution. Here are just a few of the things that attract new entrepreneurs to Asheville.
Asheville’s emergence as a hotbed for startups did not happen by chance: it was a conscious effort on behalf of the community. This is particularly true of the city’s Economic Development Coalition, which founded an initiative called Venture Asheville, based on MIT’s Venture Mentoring Service. It connects entrepreneurs with the mentorship, talent, and funding opportunities they need to succeed. Another program called the Asheville Angels is a financing and support network designed to help early-stage startups, while Blue Ridge Food Ventures incubates up to 70 new natural food startups each year.
Asheville’s business-boosting resources may mirror those available from larger cities, but results come at a fraction of the cost: Forbes ranks the city among the top 15 nationally for the cost of doing business, and in the top 50 for overall business and careers. Meanwhile, Livability, which named Asheville one of the Best Places to Live, period, applauds the area’s affordable housing, among other features. Despite the city’s popularity, the median home price remains less than $200,000.
No realistic entrepreneur expects a startup to go global (or even national) overnight: it takes time to establish a marketing plan and customer base. What gives Asheville startups an edge over most is its go-local culture. As Hi-Wire Brewing Co. founder Adam Chanack told Uncubed, residents and tourists “love and respect local.” Chanack added, “If someone is doing local and they’re doing it well, neighbors and tourists will jump all over it,” noting that the willingness of local banks to work with him was “unprecedented.”
Asheville is an equal-opportunity haven for new businesses; no single industry dominates the field. The following startups illustrate just how far an idea can take someone in the Climate City.
Mount Inspiration is a outdoor apparel line featuring adventure-inspiring quotes and graphics. The company’s sustainable manufacturing process is based on recycled materials: three plastic bottles for every shirt. A share of Mount Inspiration’s profits also go to environmentally-focused nonprofits.
Belly + kayak = Bellyak, the first watercraft made for prone whitewater paddling. According to its official website, Bellyak is to kayaking what snowboarding is to skiing—a whole new way to experience the same terrain. Lying on their bellies lets riders navigate using swimming-like motions, minimizing the learning curve associated with traditional seated kayaks.
Anyone with asthma or arthritis knows the significant impact the weather can have on his or her symptoms. According to Venture Asheville, HEALTHeWeather is a software company and creator of DailyBreath, an app that delivers personalized weather insights to patients with pollen or mold allergies and respiratory conditions to help them manage health outcomes triggered by the environment.
Being a Saveur-christened “Must Visit” brewery in an city boasting more breweries per capita than most speaks highly of Wicked Weed Brewing’s product, though gold and silver medal nods at the Great American Beer Festival underscore the point. Saveur recommends visiting the operation’s Funkatorium drinking room to try its high IPA ales and brews aged in wine barrels.
Overall, Asheville, NC offers fertile ground for entrepreneurs in range of industries and a thriving demand for locally made goods.