Those looking outside of Silicon Valley as a potential hub for their startup might want to take a gander at Utah — at least that’s the kind of trend the new Silicon Slopes Venture Fund hopes to create.
The newly formed fund, put together by Qualtrics co-founder Ryan Smith, Omniture and Domo founder Josh James and Stance co-founder turned Pelion Venture Partners’ Jeff Kearl, pledges to invest solely in Utah-based startups. The goal? To become every bit as notable as a16z or Sequoia Capital.
“I grew up in the Bay Area,” Kearl told TechCrunch of the energy he feels in the state. “This feels like the 1990s in the Bay Area. You can find hundreds of open jobs up and down the Wasatch Front.”
Utah has a reputation as a mostly religious, conservative and sleepy mountain region for outdoors enthusiasts but tech has fast become the leading job sector in the state, with some salaries from companies like Adobe and Qualtrics rivaling those in Silicon Valley. The state recently pledged a push to include at least one computer science course in every high school in the state by 2022 and also just hosted a massive, 25,000 person startup festival called the Silicon Slopes Tech Summit, where it held a Utah state governor’s debate and both Steve Case and Mark Zuckerberg spoke on stage.
It’s unclear how much the fund has set aside for its mission to help Utah become a full-fledged tech ecosystem rivaling Silicon Valley but one would imagine it would have a sizable sum to invest, if, as Smith tells TechCrunch, it is to help Utah’s up-and-coming startups go all the way from seed stage to IPO.
“I want to see companies get even bigger than Qualtrics…and do it in this state,” Smith said. Qualtrics sold to SAP in 2019 for $8 billion, notably the largest private enterprise software deal in tech history.
One of the many issues tech hubs around the world face is both the networking capabilities and the ability to invest after the seed stage or Series A. Most startups throughout the globe still find the need to travel and make connections in Silicon Valley to get them through the next step of growth. This has been true for every billion-dollar startup idea in Utah as well so far. Both Smith and James took in Silicon Valley venture for their companies, as did unicorn turned public ed tech startup Pluralsight and the recently rebranded sales platform Xant (formerly InsideSales), before making it big.
However, this new fund represents the kind of push needed to create a strong innovation ecosystem in the future, as Steve Case mentioned on stage at the summit event this last week. “Venture capitalists must look at ‘what’s happening in the Silicon Slopes’ and make sure it ‘is happening other places’,” Utah newspaper Deseret News paraphrased the AOL founder as saying.
Pelion Venture Partners, which operates in both Utah and Southern California, will act as a support to Silicon Slopes Venture Fund, providing organizational overhead. Each partner will still keep their day job and donate most fees to support the ongoing operation of the non-profit tech organization, Silicon Slopes, which runs the annual tech summit of the same moniker. However, the Silicon Slopes Venture Fund will be an independent fund from Pelion, with the sole purpose of investing in deal flow the three partners find through their respective networks within the state.
“I used to hate the term ‘a rising tide lifts all boats’ because I want to be the only boat,” James told TechCrunch. “But I really think it applies here for what we are trying to do [in Utah].”