On what must have been a slow Friday morning pre-Christmas, a red underline in a Microsoft Word document sent me down a bit of a Google rabbit-hole. Here at Nesta we’re really interested in young ambitious, innovative companies. We invest in them through our fund, we work with them through our innovation lab and we do research trying to understand what makes them successful. Yet for all our contact with them we, like some others, hadn’t quite decided whether we should be referring to them as ‘startups’ or ‘start-ups’. While not an issue that would keep many awake at night, in the interest of being more consistent I set about finding which was the best to use.
If you’re setting out to be truly faithful to the English language the hyphenated version is probably the way to go. Most big news outlets tend to use it. The Economist gives a very detailed guide on their use of hyphens here, which includes start-up. Others like the BBC and the NY Times are also entirely faithful to the hyphen while the Financial Times and the Washington Post don’t seem to be too pushed either way and use both.
Moving away from the large news outlets the picture changes. Those publications and blogs that represent the industry tend to drop the hyphen. Wired, TechCrunch and TheNextWeb all use ‘startup’. Those working directly with startups also avoid hyphenating such as 500Startups, Startup Weekend, Startup Bootcamp, The Startup Manifesto and The Lean Startup. Some like investor Brad Feld are insistent it’s not ‘start-up’.
A quick search on Google for “startup” gives 42million results with “start-up” generating only 28million. People also tend to search for ‘startup’ a lot more often[above]. Books tend to favour the use of ‘start-up’[below], perhaps due to the presence of copy editors though ‘startups’ was more popular during the mid-noughties.
Having reviewed the evidence we’ve decided we’re going to go with ‘startup’ as we’re keen to respect the industry norm, to ensure people can find our work and most importantly, the massive productivity gains from not using unnecessary hyphens.