The Countries and Cities With the Highest Proportion of Business Founders

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Have you ever had an idea for a business? Close to three in five Americans have at some point, but the vast majority of those would-be founders don’t go through with setting up their own firm, the biggest barrier being funding concerns.

But — echoing our nation’s entrepreneurial spirit — many others do follow through with their dream of starting their own business, and business happens to be very good; in 2022, five million new small business applications were submitted in the U.S., the second-highest rate since 2004.

As we’ve explored before, there are all sorts of reasons why someone might start their own business. Research shows that entrepreneurship might just be something you’re keenly wired for, too. But we wondered: does where you live make a difference in how likely you are to start a business? Are certain locations more entrepreneurial than others?

To find out, OnDeck delved into LinkedIn’s data to discover the locations at home and all over the world that count the highest proportions of business founders per 10,000 workers.

What We Did

We began our analysis by first retrieving the total number of local LinkedIn profiles in 150 countries, the top 10 most populated cities within those countries, every U.S. state, the 100 most populated cities in the U.S., every U.K. city and the top 250 global cities of the Global Startup Report 2022.

To find the proportion of workers within each location who are business founders, we repeated the search on LinkedIn by searching for the job title “founder.” We could then rank locations by the number of business founder profiles per 10k LinkedIn users overall.

Key Findings

  • Estonia counts 218.6 business founders per 10,000 workersmore than any other country.
  • In the U.S., New York boasts 160.6 business founders per 10,000 workersmore than any other state.
  • Eight of the top 20 most entrepreneurial cities in the world are in the United States, with San Francisco leading overall (353.7 business founders per 10k workers).
  • After London, Brighton tops our ranking of the most entrepreneurial U.K. cities, counting 173.6 business founders per 10k employees.

Estonia Boasts the Highest Proportion of Business Founders in the World

For a country over three times smaller than the state of New York, Estonia sure packs a punch on the global stage when it comes to entrepreneurship, boasting more business founders (218.6) per 10,000 workers on LinkedIn than any other country in the world. Entrepreneurship seems to be an engrained mindset in the smallest of the Baltic states; after the Soviet Union’s collapse in the early nineties and finding itself lacking natural resources and major industries, “Estonia was forced to be entrepreneurial.

Map of the countries with the most business founders

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Entrepreneurship is encouraged locally with youth schemes like Eesti Energia’s ENTRUM, the mission of which is to “promote the development of an entrepreneurial mindset” and provide free education. When funding worries are a barrier, it also likely helps that the average cost of starting a business in Estonia is just 1% of GNI per capita, compared to 19.8% worldwide. It’s all clearly paying off: Estonia leads Europe in the number of unicorns (startups valued at $1 billion or more) per capita, counting major brands like Skype as homegrown.

New York Is the Most Entrepreneurial U.S. State, While San Francisco Tops the City List

While the U.S. has always been an entrepreneurial country at heart, recent years have seen a tidal wave of new businesses set up shop. As Business Insider writes, “the pandemic may have forever supercharged America’s entrepreneurial spirit,” with an average of 14,000 new business applications made every day in 2022 — the second-highest rate on record. It’s New York, however, that leads as the most entrepreneurial state, counting 160.6 business founders on LinkedIn per 10,000 workers.

Map of the U.S. states with the most business founders

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Interestingly, it’s not seen as the easiest or the cheapest state in the U.S. to start a business, according to Adam Uzialko of Business News Daily. “New York state has a wide range of regulations … more regulations mean more preparation is required on the part of businesses, which often comes with additional legal costs.” The state’s high taxes have also been cited by entrepreneurs as a challenge; CNBC rates it the second-most expensive state in the country to start a business.

Infographic showing the U.S. cities with the most business founders

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On the other side of the country, San Francisco leads as far and away the most entrepreneurial U.S. city, counting 353.7 business founders per 10k workers. It’s a city home to 37 of the 64 unicorn companies in the Bay Area — a region itself home to nearly 40% of all new unicorns in the country. New York City (287 founders) comes in second place, followed by Austin, Texas (233.1 founders), the setting of one of the best universities in the world for producing entrepreneurs.

Eight of the Top 20 Most Entrepreneurial Cities in the World Are in the U.S.

There’s just something about the U.S. and entrepreneurs. Turning our attention to the world’s major cities, we found that eight of the top 20 most entrepreneurial cities — based on the proportion of local business founders on LinkedIn per 10,000 workers — can be found stateside, with San Francisco taking the overall lead. But it’s not just your typical powerhouses in the business world (like London, New York and Berlin) that appear in our ranking of the most entrepreneurial cities…

Infographic showing the cities around the world with the most business founders

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Armenia’s capital city Yerevan comes seventh (237.3 business founders per 10,000 workers on LinkedIn), where the recent Velvet Revolution has seen a boost in optimism around entrepreneurship; as Aram Vardanyan, a local business founder, said to the BBC: “It has given Yerevan a new optimism like never before … entrepreneurs are starting to see this time of optimism and change as the perfect time for innovation.”

Tbilisi in Georgia ranks not far behind (223.4 business founders per 10,000 workers), the setting of the International Chamber of Commerce’s new Centre of Entrepreneurship, designed to support local small businesses and budding entrepreneurs.

Most of North America’s Top Entrepreneurial Cities Can Be Found in the U.S.

Considering how American cities dominate our global ranking above, it’s not surprising that nine of the top ten most entrepreneurial cities in North America can be found in the U.S.

Infographic showing the North American cities with the most business founders

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However, bucking the all-American trend is Vancouver in Canada (222.6 business founders per 10,000 workers), a city dubbed “Silicon Valley North” for its concentration of technology companies, a sector growing faster locally than any other city on the continent. But it’s not all billion-dollar tech giants that have the opportunity to thrive in Vancouver and the surrounding province; free local programs like the Immigrant Services Society of BC’s SPARK and IGNITE help migrants, in particular, to start their own businesses.

Amsterdam Is Europe’s Top City for Starting a Business

Over in Europe, Amsterdam, Netherlands, ranks as the most entrepreneurial city on the continent, boasting 251.7 business founders per 10,000 local workers on LinkedIn. Amsterdam’s startup ecosystem ranks among the top five in Europe and the top 20 globally based on factors like performance, market reach and funding. On a continent where 92% of funds raised by local firms went to all-male founding teams in 2019, it’s also refreshing to note that the number of female founders in the Netherlands increased by more than 60% over the last decade.

Infographic showing the European cities with the most business founders

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Ranking as Europe’s sixth most entrepreneurial city is Helsinki (213.2 local business founders on LinkedIn for every 10,000 workers), home to over 2,500 startups and scaleups, four of Finland’s seven unicorn firms and various startup incubators and schemes. Writing for Forbes, Fabio Belloni (co-founder of the Finnish tech firm Quuppa) notes how “the Finnish Government makes it clear that it understands the value of startups and actively encourages entrepreneurs to test, innovate and fail.”

After London, Brighton Counts the Most Business Founders per Worker in the U.K.

Home to 238 business founders per 10,000 workers, London also ranks as one of Europe’s most entrepreneurial cities and takes the overall crown in the U.K. This is no surprise considering the capital frequently appears highly or at the very top of global rankings for things like networking opportunities and the local startup ecosystem. Outside of London, however, it’s Brighton that leads as the most entrepreneurial U.K. city, counting 173.6 business founders per 10,000 workers.

Infographic showing the U.K. cities with the most business founders

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In 2022, the seaside city was named the fifth-best in the country in which to start a business based on metrics like office rental prices and broadband costs. Another promising sign for budding entrepreneurs in Brighton is that, in a country where around six in ten small businesses fail within the first three years, 44.13% of Brighton and Hove’s new businesses will still be operating five years later — the second-highest survival rate in the country.

Three Argentinian and Brazilian Cities Apiece Rank Among the Most Entrepreneurial Cities in South America

Uruguay’s capital city Montevideo — home to South America’s 10th highest-ranking startup ecosystem — is the most entrepreneurial city on the continent (36.5 business founders per 10,000 workers). Bankingly founder Martin Naor believes the country’s size is an entrepreneurial boost: “Uruguay has a small market, but it is highly qualified and well-resourced. Our size means that we have a very strong global vocation.” Cultural mindset is also a factor, explains Ximena Camaño of Uruguay’s National Agency for Research and Innovation: “There is a philosophy of wanting to give back to the country what the country gave them.”

Infographic showing the South American cities with the most business founders

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Also making the cut are three Argentinian and Brazilian cities apiece. São Paulo in Brazil comes second overall (31.2 business founders per 10k workers), home to the continent’s “largest innovation ecosystem,” and Buenos Aires (27.3 business founders per 10k workers) ranks fourth, where you’ll find over half of Argentina’s startups. Opportunity rather than necessity seems to drive the continent’s entrepreneurs; as the World Bank writes: “Young people in the region are creating their own jobs rather than looking for them.”

Tel Aviv Has Highest Percentage of Business Founders As Asia’s Top City

Back in 2018, Tel Aviv, Israel’s capital city, boasted the highest number of startups per capita in the world. On LinkedIn, the city is still the most entrepreneurial in Asia, counting 299.4 business founders for every 10k profiles.

Infographic showing the Asian cities with the most business founders

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Meanwhile, Dubai (UAE) ranks as the second most entrepreneurial city in Asia (126.1 business founders for every 10k workers). It likely doesn’t escape the attention of entrepreneurs with money on their minds that Dubai offers financial benefits like corporate tax exemptions. Istanbul comes next (124.3 business founders per 10k workers), home to seven out of ten Turkish startups and the second-best startup ecosystem in Eastern Europe (according to StartupBlink).

Gold Coast, Australia, Counts the Highest Proportion of Entrepreneurs in Oceania

Cities in Australia and New Zealand make up all ten spots in our ranking of Oceania’s most entrepreneurial cities, with Australia’s Gold Coast taking the overall lead (143.5 business founders per 10k workers), a city “among the top six cities in Australia for lodging patent applications on a per capita basis.” Famous startups-turned-megabrands from here include HiSmile, a teeth-whitening brand that made $96 million in 2022 and counts Kim Kardashian as a fan.

Infographic showing the Oceanic cities with the most business founders

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Boasting 120.2 business founders per 10,000 workers, Auckland is the highest-ranking New Zealand city, the setting of over half of the country’s startups. Raising funds might be a concern for lots of budding business founders, but at least in Auckland the odds are on your side; according to Startup Genome, in recent years, the city has witnessed a “higher number of [seed rounds having raised an amount of $125K or more] compared to the rest of New Zealand.”

Rwanda’s Capital Is Africa’s Most Entrepreneurial City

Rwanda’s capital city Kigali is the most entrepreneurial city in Africa, counting 116.5 business founders for every 10k LinkedIn profiles. It’s also the home of the Norrsken Foundation’s startup hub Kigali House, billed as the “largest hub for entrepreneurs in Africa.” Interestingly, despite Rwanda being the first country in the world to have a female-majority parliament, there’s a disparity in the business world: only 17% of small businesses in Rwanda are owned by women. On the plus side, platforms like Becoming Nala exist to support local female entrepreneurs.

Infographic showing the African cities with the most business founders

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Meanwhile, two South African cities also make the cut, Cape Town and Johannesburg, respectively, home to 103.4 and 87.7 entrepreneurs per 10,000 local workers. According to StartupBlink’s scoring system, South Africa is the continent’s startup leader based on metrics like the number of local startups, coworking spaces and accelerators.

Explore the World’s Hotspots for Starting a Business

How likely it is that someone follows through on their dream to start their own business doesn’t only depend on where they live — but it sure can help. Even excluding a treasure trove of resources, support and funding a budding entrepreneur might find locally, if you live in a city with a wealth of other business founders on your doorstep (San Francisco, for instance), it should be easier to network with like-minded individuals.

Writing for Entrepreneur magazine (where better fitting to get advice?), Roman Kumar Vyas notes the benefits of networking, from establishing connections with investors, gaining valuable knowledge, building business partnerships and your own brand. That being said, the internet is an invaluable resource for networking and finding mentors when it comes to starting up your own business — wherever you live in the world.

How We Did It

To determine the countries and cities with the highest proportion of business founders, we dug into LinkedIn, searching for profiles that contained the word “founder” as part of their title.

First, we retrieved the total number of LinkedIn profiles in each location. For global cities, we considered the top 250 cities from the Global Startup Report 2022, as well as the 10 most populated cities in every country. We also considered every country, every U.S. state, every U.K. city and the 100 most populated cities in the U.S. We excluded locations with fewer than 10,000 LinkedIn profiles.

We then searched all locations in our universe and tallied the number of profiles that included the word “founder” using the Title filter.

Finally, we ranked the locations on the number of founder profiles per 10,000 LinkedIn users.

This data was gathered as of July 2023.

This content is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as financial, investment or legal advice.