This article was originally published in the Spring 2018 edition of Silicon Slopes Magazine.
For years, Silicon Valley has served as the standard for the tech industry. Its innovations have fundamentally and forever changed the ways we store data, connect with peers, track our customers, call a cab, and receive news. And while success breeds success, it also invites exorbitant costs of living, traffic congestion, and ballooning salaries.
For this reason, many startups, venture capitalists, and top talent have found homes in non-coastal locales where the lifestyle is inviting, and cities put out big welcome mats in the form of tax breaks and eager workers. For up-and-coming technology hubs, “becoming the next Silicon Valley” is not a misguided goal, but I’m not certain it’s an ideal aspiration either.
Our local tech boom along the I-15 corridor has been seismic. Well-known drivers of our up-to-now success include exceptional quality of life in the mountains, a supportive business community, and a local pool of technical talent from the surrounding universities make this an extremely fertile ecosystem for Utah-bred startups.
There are three more factors that don’t get as much air time, but in my outsider’s opinion, are just as critical.
We still hear a lot of chatter from both insiders and outsiders about the lack of large VC firms hindering our growth. As someone who’s played that game, I have a different perspective. I think Utah companies actually have a unique advantage in a rare breed of local funders who have both the structure and mindset that allows them to invest in companies at different stages of growth. These “invested investors” mean that entrepreneurs spend much less effort trying to fit into someone else’s boxes, and more time building products and organizations that work.
The local business ecosystem possesses an ideal balance of humility and ambition, and a general willingness to help others. A climate of collaborative competition, where motivation and support are both in play, is a much more productive environment to grow a successful business. A naturally-occurring, recognizable entrepreneurial culture like this simply can’t be manufactured.
Part of the reason we’re such a collaborative bunch is that we get each other. Our business leaders have shared experiences that breed both connection and openness to new people and ideas. And while we’ve gotten a lot of mileage of out of it so far, this sameness can also limit us. The next big opportunity for Utah’s entrepreneur and tech community is to harness that openness to seek out people who are different than us — to create environments that attract the unfamiliar and unexpected. This type of outside-in diversity is what fuels that creative spark and leads to next-level innovation.
Utah shouldn’t want to birth the next Twitter. There was a time and a place for that kind of leap, and it’s already been done. This next phase of business-building will be a time where all new companies are technology ventures. And with a rich heritage of foundational tech, paired with our unique strengths and opportunities, we’re more than ready to take the next step that’s all our own. Yes, Silicon Valley will always have wisdom to teach, but its path isn’t ours. And that’s a good thing.