The New Frontier: Entrepreneurship in Utah

With last week’s (confidential) filing of Pluralsight’s imminent IPO and the rising speculation that Domo will file for IPO any day now, the world is finally seeing what we at Origin have known for some time: there’s something special going on in Salt Lake City.

Although Origin Ventures began as a Chicago-based firm, we actually have two offices – our primary one in Chicago, and another in Salt Lake City. From there, partner Brent Hill focuses on deals in the Western region. So far, we’ve made three investments in the ecosystem: Teem in 2015, DirectScale in 2017, and AppDetex (based in nearby Boise, Idaho) in 2017.

It’s no secret that Utah’s software scene is booming; articles like this one and this one seem to be published every week. Since I joined the Origin team in February, 2016 as an intern, I’d heard Brent laud the development in “Silicon Slopes,” but I did not visit until joining Origin full-time.

Viewing something from a distance and being there in person are two different things. So when Brent mentioned Silicon Slopes Tech Summit this past January, I knew I had to go. In my three days in Utah (in addition to attending a Sundance showing and spending a day snowboarding), I spent two jam-packed days at the conference, hearing from the likes of Steve Young, Mitt Romney, Stewart Butterfield, JD Vance, and industry giants like David Fialkow and Jim Swartz.

While the speakers were first rate, the attendance (over 14,000 people) and the engagement from the greater community were even more impressive. Utah startups of all sizes had delegations in the Salt Palace. The energy was electric, and the excitement over the ecosystem’s growth was palpable. In addition to Pluralsight and Domo, it’s an open secret that Qualtrics and InsideSales may see liquidity events in the near-term as well. 2018 is indeed an exciting time for Utah.

Since our name is Origin Ventures, we like to understand where a deal or a geography or a founder has been – not just where they are now. This is why Brent’s home office in Park City is adorned with black and white photos of silver mines from before his hometown was named one of America’s prettiest towns.

For Salt Lake City, the metamorphosis from industrial banking and direct selling to software began with Omniture and Overstock.com during the dotcom era. These successes fueled companies like Domo and Qualtrics, which created demand for engineers and salespeople and brought notable investors like Accel and Sequoia to the Beehive State. University of Utah’s Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute (which I had the pleasure of visiting on my trip) and BYU’s Rollins Center for Entrepreneurship & Technology build on that momentum and help foster the talent that propels the ecosystem forward.

We’ve seen compounding growth like Salt Lake City’s across the country – in cities like Chicago, Indianapolis, Atlanta, Austin, and others. Successful entrepreneurs don’t just take their money and run: they reinvest in the geographies where they’ve found success, and in turn raise the tide that lifts all ships. As Midwestern investors who aren’t constrained to only invest close to home, we’ll continue to seek out growing geographies like Salt Lake City.

If you know of an entrepreneur with a good idea – in Salt Lake City or anywhere else – you can reach out to me at scott@originventures.com. Maybe your startup will be the catalyst to build the next great ecosystem.

By |April 18th, 2018|

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