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Best Cities for Female Entrepreneurs

Feb. 18, 2014
Best Cities for Female Entrepreneurs
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Recent years have shown an increasing number of women leading business growth in America. According to the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO), the number of women-owned business firms in the U.S. grew by 59% between 1997 and 2013. Today, female entrepreneurs run more than 8.6 million businesses in the country, generating more than $1.3 trillion in total revenues.

 In honor of Women’s History Month, NerdWallet analyzed data to find the best cities for women entrepreneurs by examining the following variables:

  1. Business-friendliness: We looked at the number of businesses per 100 residents to assess a city’s entrepreneurial climate.
  2. Presence of female entrepreneurs: We took a look at the percentage of businesses that are owned by women to measure how friendly each location is to female entrepreneurs.
  3. Earnings of female workers: To assess the earning potential women have in each city, we used the median earnings for full-time female workers.
  4. Education level: Studies have shown that education correlates with entrepreneurship. To measure the presence of educated workers, we looked at the percentage of residents 25 years and older with a bachelor’s degree or higher.
  5. Economic state: In order to assess whether a city has an economy suitable for entrepreneurial success, we examined unemployment rates.

Female Entrepreneurship by the Numbers

Entrepreneurial Woman

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Best Cities for Women Entrepreneurs

  1.    Washington, D.C.

The nation’s capital has the highest rate of women-owned businesses of the top 10 cities on this list. More than a third of the businesses in D.C. are owned by women, so new female entrepreneurs can find many peers and mentors. The city is also home to several organizations that serve as resources for women in business, such as the Washington, DC Women’s Business Center, which provides training to women entrepreneurs to support their businesses, and the National Women’s Business Council, an advisory council that serves as a voice for female entrepreneurs to the federal government.

2.    San Francisco

Women in San Francisco are active in the bustling entrepreneurial scene of the Bay Area and Silicon Valley — 30% of the city’s businesses is run by women. San Francisco also boasts the highest median year full-time female earnings of the 50 largest cities in the country at more than $60,000. Among nearby networking resources available to the large number of women entrepreneurs here is Professional BusinessWomen of California, which hosts a yearly conference in San Francisco; last year’s event featured several prominent businesswomen, including Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook.

3.    Seattle, WA

Seattle is one of the most educated cities in the U.S., with nearly 58% of its residents holding a bachelor’s degree or higher. This correlates well with the city’s high median salary for women and relatively low unemployment rate. Seattle has 12.5 businesses per 100 residents, which is one of the highest such figures of all cities. Local resources for entrepreneurial women include Women Business Owners and Women’s Business Exchange, both of which are active networking committees that help connect women in business.

4.    Minneapolis, MN

Minneapolis has the lowest unemployment rate of the top 10 cities for women entrepreneurs, who own nearly a third of the city’s businesses. The region is home to several organizations serving businesswomen, such as Women Entrepreneurs of Minnesota (WeMN), which hosts quarterly networking events, and Women Venture, a nonprofit that aids women-owned businesses through capital financing and consulting.

5.    Portland, OR

Portland scores well as an economically healthy and educated city, and it boasts nearly 12 businesses per 100 residents to boot. Entrepreneurial women here are supported by organizations such as Women Entrepreneurs of Oregon (WEO) and Portland Female Executives (PDXfX).

6.    Atlanta, GA 

As one of the biggest metropolitan areas in the South, Atlanta holds a presence as a major business hub. One in three Atlanta businesses is owned by women, and the city is home to an educated workforce. One of the region’s prominent businesswomen is Carol Tomé, CFO of Atlanta-based Home Depot. In addition to professional resources like Atlanta Women Entrepreneurs, highly regarded business schools at Emory University and Georgia Tech provide great career advancement opportunities for women.

7.    Denver, CO

Denver is home to 11.5 businesses per 100 residents, and 30% of those companies are run by women. The city also presents many educational opportunities for businesswomen. The Jake Jabs Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Colorado Denver educates and empowers aspiring entrepreneurs and even acts as a startup incubator to foster businesses. Nearby, the Leeds School of Business at University of Colorado Boulder (which offers our favorite evening MBA program for women) offers many opportunities for women like the Women’s Council, the WILD Summit and the Women in Business club.

8.    Austin, TX

As a hotbed for startups, Austin enjoys a strong presence of businesses and boasts a very low unemployment rate of 4.5%. The Women’s Business Center at BiGAUSTIN supports women entrepreneurs with business coaching and more. Another organizational resource is Austin Women in Technology, a nonprofit network serving Austin’s community of women entrepreneurs in the technology industry.

9.     San Jose

 California’s Silicon Valley has become well known as the site of a booming technology industry and San Jose has benefited from its presence as the largest city in the region. Women own nearly 31% of the city’s businesses, and full-time female workers earn a yearly median salary of $52,000. Women entrepreneurs here can benefit from the Silicon Valley Center for Entrepreneurship at San Jose State University, which serves to foster enterprise growth in the region.

10. Boston, MA

Boston is a major business hub in the Northeast, and its presence on this list is fueled by high median yearly earnings for females and its generally well-educated population. Beantown also offers many professional resources to help businesswomen, such as The Boston Club, a community of female executives and professionals, and the Center for Women & Enterprise, a nonprofit institution to help women entrepreneurs in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

Rank City Businesses per 100 residents Percentage of businesses that are women-owned Median earnings for female full-time workers Percentage of residents 25+ with Bachelor’s or higher Unemployment Rate Final weighted score
1 Washington, DC 9.5 34.5% $60,116 53.0% 4.6% 69.40
2 San Francisco, CA 13.7 30.1% $60,245 53.6% 5.6% 69.36
3 Seattle, WA 12.5 30.3% $51,158 57.7% 5.4% 64.64
4 Minneapolis, MN 10.4 32.1% $42,331 46.8% 4.3% 55.73
5 Portland, OR 11.9 31.9% $41,728 44.6% 6.2% 51.77
6 Atlanta, GA 9.8 33.4% $43,679 47.4% 6.8% 51.36
7 Denver, CO 11.5 30.1% $42,052 44.7% 5.8% 50.94
8 Austin, TX 10.8 28.2% $40,356 45.4% 4.5% 50.86
9 San Jose, CA 7.6 30.7% $52,134 38.2% 5.8% 49.66
10 Boston, MA 8.3 29.7% $48,029 43.3% 5.9% 49.28
11 Raleigh, NC 10.5 28.4% $39,058 46.8% 5.2% 48.80
12 New York (Manhattan), NY 11.4 32.3% $45,081 34.7% 6.6% 48.16
13 San Diego, CA 10.3 30.7% $42,106 42.0% 6.4% 47.36
14 Charlotte, NC 10.2 31.1% $37,427 40.3% 6.6% 43.49
15 Miami, FL 20.8 28.7% $27,375 23.4% 6.0% 42.89
16 Chicago, IL 9.0 36.1% $41,828 34.5% 8.3% 42.14
17 Baltimore, MD 6.6 37.0% $40,209 26.9% 5.9% 40.94
18 Colorado Springs, CO 10.9 31.5% $36,698 35.7% 7.2% 40.82
19 Albuquerque-Rio Rancho, NM 8.6 31.9% $38,537 33.7% 6.5% 39.98
20 Nashville, TN 10.4 26.8% $35,733 36.2% 5.7% 39.52


The overall score for female entrepreneurs was calculated from the following measures:

  1. Number of businesses per 100 residents from the U.S. Census
  2. Percent of businesses that are women-owned from the U.S. Census
  3. Median yearly earnings for full-time female workers from the U.S. Census
  4. Percent of residents 25+ who have a bachelor’s degree or higher from the U.S. Census
  5. Dec. 2013 unemployment rate from the Bureau of Labor Statistics

 We included the 50 most populous cities in the U.S. in this analysis.

Woman Entrepreneur image from Shutterstock.