The 4 Ingredients of Utah's Startup 'Secret Sauce'
Utah’s Wasatch Front corridor has become “the next Silicon Valley”-or, as the locals call it, “Silicon Slopes.” As many of you know, I grew up in Utah and love tech. But Utah startups aren’t just all about the tech. Today, 86 of the fastest-growing companies in America call Utah home, and new companies of every kind are succeeding in the state that recently ranked #4 for starting a business and #1 for entrepreneurs.
Why has Utah become one of the best places for start-ups and business funding? The following four reasons can explain.
The University of Utah hosts the Utah Science, Technology, and Research Initiative, which I personally can vouch for as my alma mater. And Weber State University in Ogden provides courses and mentorship through the Startup Ogden program. Brigham Young University, often compared to Stanford in its relationship to Utah’s version of Silicon Valley, is particularly noted for the Rollins Center for Entrepreneurship within the Marriott School of Business. In the last five years alone, BYU grads started 60 companies and raised more than $17 million in funding.
You need money to start your business and sometimes you need help growing it, as did Pluralsight. The company, which offers continuing education courses in information technology, recently did raised $135 million to help bring its valuation close to $1 billion. In venture capital investment, Utah beats all others in dollar-per-deal averages with Provo-Orem at $51.3 million and Salt Lake City-Ogden at $17.2 million per deal.
There have been several other startups raising money in Utah as well. Domo has gotten $457 Million. Qualtrics recently capped off $220 million. Inside Sales at $199 Million. There are also several other companies that have received significant investments from large VC firms from around the globe.
Don’t need quite that much money for your startup? The Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development is a repository of helpful business programs and partners. And nonprofits offer microenterprise and small business loans. Provo’s Prefundia helps people get backers for crowdfunding projects before they’re even launched. How? By creating buzz and a mass following, “so when they do launch [on Kickstarter, Indiegogo, etc.], they can come in with momentum and rake it in on the first day,” explains co-founder Jeff Schwarting.
3. Paying it forward.
Utah entrepreneurs love to “pay it forward.” It’s almost a given that company founders who cash out will invest in other entrepreneurs, a compounding practice that goes back to the success of WordPerfect and Novell in the 1980s.
Many business owners and entrepreneurs make forward payments by running and teaching in universities’ business programs, which also invite outside mentors to participate.
BoomStartup, a highly ranked, mentorship-driven seed accelerator, is another option. Run by John Richards, it a fine accelerator and one of the best Utah has to offer. It has helped startups raise more than $15 million in seed capital but the key to its effectiveness is its leveraging of “mentoring mindshare.”
4. Secret sauce.
With over a dozen contestants on ABC’s Shark Tank so far, Provo has become very familiar to the sharks. Barbara Corcoran, who bought a ski lodge at a Utah resort, posits, “There must be a secret sauce in Provo that gives entrepreneurs an extra share of creativity and the energy it takes to build a successful business.” The main ingredients of this "sauce'' are the state’s civic support, culture and community.
Aside from government business programs, there are also local initiatives in many Utah cities. For example, Provo’s entrepreneurial epicenter, in the aptly named Startup Building, rents desk space cheaply in its collaborative environment of company founders, graphic designers, computer coders, marketers and others. This is also where the national entrepreneur program 1 Million Cups, brought to Provo by its economic deputy mayor Dixon Holmes, takes place.
There are also other amazing business owners, like my former boss Lane Livingston who runs Fibernet, a company helping host many of Utah's top startups. Lane has played a large part in making Utah a thriving startup state.
Companies like CMOE have helped foster and grow some of the best leaders by making them into better readers. Since reading Steven Stowell's book "Team Approach: With Teamwork Anything is Possible" I've learned to become a better leader by empowering my team.
And along with Utah businesses, the state and cities themselves make many coveted lists: the best places to start a business, most educated cities, best places to live and work, most affordable places to live, healthiest places to live, and best places to raise a family.
So if you’ve got the world’s next greatest business idea and want one of the best places to turn it into a successful reality, you’d do well to get yourself and your brainchild to Utah. The only place where you can work in Silicon Slopes and then hit the ski slopes.