It’s almost cliché to brag about your hometown, but mine is truly golden. I was not born in Utah, but I have spent the last 18 years getting to know the area and building my own business in the unique Utah ecosystem.
Many articles have been written on Utah’s Silicon Slopes phenomenon, and Utah has become a hotbed for investors over the last decade. But something that makes Utah truly unique from an entrepreneurial point of view is multiple acclaimed universities churning out award-winning talent, year after year. The rising generation of entrepreneurs from Utah is making a huge impact on the way businesses work. If you aren’t watching what these bright young minds are doing, you’re making a huge mistake.
Take the case of BYU student Garrett Gee, who credits Utah in part for his recent harvest of $54 million for the sale of his startup, Scan. Garrett served as apprentice to the Utah Venture Entrepreneur Forum the year I was chairman. He was obviously a quick study. Garrett says, “Utah is fantastic. My favorite thing about the business culture in Utah is a sense of life balance. People are crazy passionate about their careers, but manage to balance that passion with their families, health, and faith."
With that in mind, here are six things you can learn from Utah’s top student-run businesses in 2015:
While it’s nothing new, students are taking full advantage of their proximity to other individuals with talents in every industry. Take for example Hungry Media, a student-owned business where videographers, photographer and web designers have partnered to provide low-cost, high quality digital content for business owners.
2. Smart web design.
Being online has not been optional for at least the last five years, but just having your own domain is no longer enough. Increasingly, tech-savvy consumers from every target market have high expectations for online business interactions. Your site needs to be user-friendly, easy to find, nice to look at, mobile friendly, contain interesting content and, if it makes sense for your product/service, available as an app.
Student businesses, mostly run by young Internet natives, understand and excel at this. My Home Story is a great example of a clean web design that guides a variety of audiences to exactly the information they need.
As I recently pointed out, being a good global citizen is important. While it may seem like millennials are too absorbed in social media and video games to understand this, the number of green companies founded by college students would suggest otherwise. App launches are prevalent, yes, but they are joined by ventures such as Evelar, a solar company that appeals to their customers’ pocketbooks as well as their sense of environmental stewardship, and Hoops ASL, a youth-oriented basketball club with lofty character-shaping goals for their participants.
The Internet isn't everything and not every opportunity is centered on software, social media or an online gimmick. Two of the top three student-run companies recognized by the Utah Student 25 organization this year are the clothing startups Roolee and HM Cole.
The lesson here is that no matter how advanced technology gets, people’s basic needs for food, clothing and shelter, will always be at the heart of trade.
While some businesses are still trying to figure out how online reviews can effect their reputation, students are harnessing the very real power of word of mouth through custom hashtags, testimonials posted and linked right on their websites, and social media streams. Look no further than STEM education startup DSM for a great use of personal stories that help strengthen their brand.
Even established businesses can learn something from the student campaigns gathering investment dollars from their customers. Student business Dark Energy used this technique to launch their first rugged, portable USB charger, and have since added multiple products to their line.
To revitalize your own thinking, it never hurts to look at what young entrepreneurs are doing. Experience counts, but the passion, drive and innovation of young students with nothing to lose is unmatched.
Related: The Best States for Entrepreneurs