SFCED | San Francisco Center for Economic Development

Boston Vs. San Francisco: Two Cultures of Innovation

Let’s say you’re an ambitious, creative professional or entrepreneur working in the United States. You’re interested in technology, you have the luxury of mobility, and you want to be close to the center of things. Which city should you choose as your home?

If you’re attracted to a specific sub-field, the answer may be obvious. For finance, advertising, traditional media, or fashion, it’s New York. For government, it’s Washington, DC. For entertainment, it’s Los Angeles.

But for almost any other area of technology or its related industries, Boston and San Francisco should be high on your list. Both are top-tier innovation hubs. How are you supposed to choose between them?

It’s the kind of question that sparks endless debate on forums like Quora or Reddit. Personally, I’m madly, unconditionally in love with San Francisco, to the point where I don’t feel completely comfortable living anywhere else. That’s mostly a matter of aesthetic taste: there’s something about the bracing air, the dramatic views, and the golden light in San Francisco that no other city can match. But I’ve spent enough time studying and working in each place—15 years in and around Boston, 13 years in the San Francisco Bay Area—to have a balanced sense of their pluses and minuses as entrepreneurial base camps.

My own take, based on observing the personalities and operating styles of hundreds of active entrepreneurs in each location, is that both Boston and San Francisco boast incredibly strong innovation cultures. But they’re not the same, of course. Broadly speaking, their entrepreneurs draw energy and inspiration from different sources, and prioritize different goals. It’s a case of contrasting preferences or tendencies, like left-handedness or right-handedness. Neither is better, and each has its advantages.

Read more: Xconomy Boston Vs. San Francisco: Two Cultures of Innovation