Scale Your Startup: Winston-Salem is One of the Best-kept Startup Secrets

Two professionals working on a whiteboard.
5 Minute Read

If you’re a startup, the draw of cities like Boston and San Francisco is obvious. Budding entrepreneurs can position themselves among other entrepreneurs or be among established giants. These well-known hubs offer a range of assets, from an educated workforce to a vibrant nightlife.

While Winston-Salem may not be mentioned automatically in the same breath as Atlanta or Austin, it should be considered a destination for startups. Given the lifestyle, amenities and resources found here, Winston-Salem’s not to be overlooked.

Lower Cost of Living

In 2020, we collectively learned that innovation can continue virtually. Now more than ever, we’re equipped to connect via video conferencing, phone and collaboration software. Given the ability to work from anywhere, why not do it in a city that’s cost-conducive?

According to the Census Bureau’s 2018 American Community Survey, Winston-Salem’s median home price was $149,600. Realty Hop’s Housing Affordability Index ranked Winston-Salem among the top 25 cities nationally in 2019, noting that its housing affordability and cost of living were lower than other major North Carolina cities like Raleigh and Charlotte.

An Abundance of Amenities

Winston-Salem has a storied past and a bright future that offers big-city amenities with a small-town feel. There are distinct neighborhoods with unique draws, a walkable downtown that always has something new to discover and a year-round calendar of sporting, entertainment and community events to explore.


The city of Winston-Salem manages over 3,500 acres of public parks and 25 miles of greenways and trails. You’ll find green space like no other in Winston-Salem.

  • Bailey Park: This 1.6-acre greenspace is located in the middle of the Innovation Quarter and regularly hosts everything from yoga sessions to concerts. On any given day, you’ll find everything from locally owned food trucks serving up lunchtime meals to Innovation Quarter tenants to local families enjoying a movie screening under the stars or yoga under the iconic smokestacks.
  • Quarry Park: Operating for nearly 50 years as the Piedmont Quarry, this 228-acre site features walking and bike trails and overlooks with breathtaking views of the quarry, now filled with water, and the Winston-Salem skyline.
  • Salem Lake: One of the most popular outings for exercise in Winston-Salem is Salem Lake, which is encircled by a walkable and bikeable 7-mile trail. The park, located a few miles from downtown Winston-Salem, also offers fishing, boating, a playground and picnic shelters.
  • Long Branch Trail: Starting along defunct railroad tracks in the Innovation Quarter, Long Branch Trail is a 1.7-mile, paved greenway that connects downtown Winston-Salem to Salem Lake via the Salem Creek Greenway. The trail not only provides walkers, runners and cyclists with a safe path for exercise, but it also serves to connect parts of the city, such as historically Black college Winston-Salem State University’s campus, with downtown.
A women riding a bike on Long Branch Trail, an outdoor amenity that connects the Innovation Quarter and Winston-Salem
Aerial view of Bailey Park, an amenity in the Innovation Quarter's startup ecosystem

Arts & Culture

Winston-Salem has justifiably been coined the “City of the Arts and Innovation.” With that, there are plenty of opportunities for budding artists of all ages to hone their craft or for art enthusiasts to enjoy it.

  • The University of North Carolina School of the Arts (UNCSA): UNCSA is among the top-ranked creative and performing arts conservatories for high school, undergraduate and master’s level students, training young artists for careers in the performing, visual and moving image arts.
  • The Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art (SECCA): Opened in 1956, SECCA has become a regional destination for visual art exhibitions, music, dance, theater and education.
  • RiverRun International Film Festival: This annual event, hosted in Winston-Salem, is one of the premier independent film festivals in the region and the most prominent event for the RiverRun organization, a mission-driven nonprofit that aims to foster a deeper understanding of our diverse world through film.
  • National Black Theatre Festival (NBFT): For six days, the city turns purple and celebrates African-American artistic endeavors with performances, workshops, films, spoken poetry and more. Produced by the North Carolina Black Repertory Company, this event features over 130 performances and draws thousands to the area.

An Educated—and Growing—Workforce

It could be due to the six universities and colleges within city limits and the nearly 150 higher education institutions scattered throughout the state that Winston-Salem can boast a robust talent pipeline that’s ready and eager for the future.

37.2% of the population in Winston-Salem have obtained a Bachelor’s degree or higher, and the city’s net employment outlook was ranked in the top 10 by Forbes in 2020. With 34,000+ employees and expertise and research focused on over 100 areas of medicine, including specialties in cancer treatment, pediatrics, neurology, healthcare and life sciences is one of Winston-Salem’s largest industries.

The city is also committed to career development, helping students through career readiness programs in finance, hospitality and tourism, construction and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). In addition, Forsyth Technical Community College is offering free tuition, books and fees for the 2021-22 academic year to all North Carolina high school graduates. The Winston Under 40 program via Greater Winston-Salem, Inc. focuses on leadership development, community involvement and networking opportunities and is a launching pad for future leaders.

Winston-Salem students looking through microscopes.

Dynamic Research and Innovation

With six higher education institutions and two major healthcare institutions calling it home, there’s no shortage of innovation opportunities in Winston-Salem.

The Innovation Quarter, a significant factor in the city’s innovation ecosystem growth, has developed a unique service that brings together the expertise of its anchor academic institutions like Wake Forest School of Medicine and consumer-minded partners. iQ Healthtech Labs facilitates partnerships between the academic experts at Wake Forest Baptist Health and industry partners such as UPS to test, refine, scale and rapidly deploy healthtech solutions to the marketplace.

Their researchers and innovators are focused on making significant contributions in the sectors of:

  • Value and health transformation
  • Healthy aging
  • Virtual health
  • Personalized care and precision medicine
  • Learning systems

Winston-Salem is perhaps most recognized for the work of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, contributing to the breadth of clinical therapies that both treat and cure disease.

Richa Bunday and Ajay Dharod, MD discuss their research data in Bailey Power Plant building, Innovation Quarter
Body on a chip, Regenerative Medicine

The Winston-Salem Startup Secret is Out

Winston-Salem may currently be one of the best-kept secrets among startup and innovation communities, but it’s rapidly making a name for itself as a top mid-sized city. While it may lack the cachet of the most well-known innovation hubs, it provides just as much (and arguably more) to entrepreneurs and startups through a thriving ecosystem and cultural experience. Winston-Salem offers access to academic institutions with research-focused faculty, well-priced living and a community full of uniqueness and diversity.

See Where You Fit In

Winston-Salem’s startup ecosystem isn’t just for startups. Contact us to learn more about available resources and upcoming programs to help your venture grow.