The Secret Sauce to Utah’s Startup Ecosystem

The views expressed in this post are solely those of the author.

 

When I moved to Utah 20 years ago, my friends on the East and West Coasts knew the state for one thing—the greatest snow on earth. What they and the rest of the country are finally coming to realize is that Utah offers an entrepreneur’s playground. My office at Sorenson Impact on the University of Utah campus is a block from the Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute, just one of the reasons the ‘U’ is rated the No. 1 School for Entrepreneurs by LendEDU.
So what’s making entrepreneurs stick around after ski season has passed?

Healthy business environment

The corridor along these mountains, the Wasatch Front, is known as ‘Silicon Slopes’, and for a good reason. In article after article, Utah is ranked at the top when it comes to places to start a business. A quick scan of Forbes, Entrepreneur Magazine and others say Utah has a ‘secret sauce’ that includes a young, educated and multilingual workforce, access to capital, a governor who is passionate about cutting regulation and red tape and a triple-A bond rating. Here is an eyebrow-raising statistic: Utah beats New York when it comes to per capita venture capital, second only to California and Massachusetts.  

Diversity of industry

Importantly, our startups and our investments are not focused solely on tech. In 2015, 86 of the fastest-growing companies in the US were based here. In 2014 and 2015, a total of $1.5 billion in venture funding flowed to Utah companies, much of it from out of state. We have our share of unicorns – companies with $1 billion+ valuations like Omniture, Pluralsight, Domo, and Inside Sales; and unicorns Ancestry.com, Vivint, and Qualtrics are literally on the same road.  

Spirit of generosity

It’s not all about the money, of course. Utah consistently ranks among the highest in the nation for volunteerism. That spirit of giving back and paying it forward bolsters entrepreneurship. Dozens of incubators exist with specific niches and missions, from university-based programs like the U’s Lassonde Center and BYU’s Rollins Center, to Sustainable Starts Ups and the Salt Mine. Some of these entities were founded by entrepreneurs as a way to give back, including Utah Jazz owners Gail and Larry Miller’s entrepreneurship campus at Salt Lake Community College, BoomStartUp, Beehive StartUp, LaunchUp and the Women’s Tech Council. And Rico Brands’ Jorge Fierro helps new food ventures, like Argentina’s Best Empanadas and The Bagel Project, by creating their products in his kitchen. Impact investing has a strong foothold in Utah, too. Sorenson Impact, where I work, has facilitated $100 million in investments in social enterprises across the globe.
The entrepreneurial ecosystem in Utah is a unique blend of tangibles like supportive government resources and strong capital support from investor’s like Shark Tank’s Barbara Corcoran and intangibles like the pay-it-forward attitude shared by the community of entrepreneurs and those who support them. These factors make it an attractive place investors and entrepreneurs alike, and the winters aren’t too bad either.

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