Building Momentum for Utah’s Next Generation of Tech Entrepreneurs

This article was published in the Tech Summit 2020 issue

by Brock Blake, CEO/Founder, Lendio

Recently, I wrote in Forbes about the evolution of Utah’s tech scene and the generations of successful businesses that have taken root in Silicon Slopes. Former Utah Governor and Health & Human Services Secretary Michael O. Leavitt spoke last spring at a technology summit here in the state. He talked about where Utah’s tech sector was 25 years ago, where it is now, and what needs to happen to keep the momentum going. He said, “Leadership is a generational relay. Each generation builds on the generations before.”

It was a quarter of a century ago that Leavitt’s administration laid the foundation for the state’s business growth with an objective to become a tech capital.

At the time, the only notable tech employers in the state were Novell and WordPerfect, and according to Leavitt, there was one VC fund in the state. “It was a whopping $20 million,” he said.

Eventually, Adobe came to Utah, and since then, many have followed. These days:

  • Utah ranks 7th among states for venture capital activity (3rd per capita).
  • Utah has 6,700 tech companies, up from 1,500 companies 20 years ago.
  • The technology industry now accounts for more than 302,000 jobs in the state.
  • One in every seven dollars of the state’s GDP is from the tech industry.

Utah’s Startup Gene

What is it about the Beehive State that fosters so much entrepreneurship?

Oftentimes, there’s an actual lineage you can trace from one business generation to the next. From Intel and Apple in Silicon Valley to Costco and Microsoft in Washington, all of these companies are part of the first generation of major wealth-producing companies in their respective states. The legacy left behind by these entrepreneurial pioneers has given rise to industries and sectors that never existed before. Leveraging those capital resources creates a new generation of companies that attract more talent with higher-paying jobs, who then take that wealth and create yet another generation of companies.

Utah’s unicorns have created a new generation of wealth in the state, which is now being redistributed in the form of startups popping up all over the state, not just along the Silicon Slopes. Jeff Burningham’s Peak Ventures has taken much of its wealth and invested in dozens of tech startups like Divvy, Podium, SaltStack, and Filevine (Lendio, too). Burningham said he believes the state is now witnessing the fourth generation, or wave, of companies since the initial Big Bang of Word Perfect, Novell, and Omniture.

How Can We Influence the Next Generation?

To keep this momentum building for future generations of entrepreneurs in the state, I believe there are three keys.

  1. Access to Capital. I love Utah. I was born and raised here and graduated from BYU. When it came time for me to start a business, there was no question I wanted to be based here in Utah, as I believe the state has the right recipe for building a successful company. At that time, there was not a lot of capital in the state, especially Series A capital. Fortunately, the capital market has changed since then, and more outside investors are interested in Utah companies. For example, Comcast Ventures has been a great late stage investor and partner for Lendio. These days, a lot of money is being raised in Utah, and there have been a few significant IPOs just in the last year. It will be critical to the success of young entrepreneurs to keep this capital flowing.
  2. Access to Talent. In Utah there are more than 160,000 university and college students along the 80-mile stretch of I-15 between Provo and Ogden. Many of these students are already working part-time or interning at businesses long before they graduate, giving Utah companies dibs on a lot of the nation’s top talent. We’re now seeing companies from out of state that hear about our salesforce and our technology talent and want to hire from that pool. I appreciate what the governor and others in the state have done to help lay the groundwork for this thriving business environment. The Silicon Slopes organization has also done an amazing job of strengthening the local business community through its Tech Summit, networking events, and roundtables. Maintaining Utah as an affordable, attractive locale for startups and young entrepreneurial talent will be essential for fueling future growth.
  3. Quality of Life. More and more companies are scrapping on-site perks in favor of flexible work schedules so employees can take advantage of Utah’s powder days, trails, and National Parks. Perks like these get the attention of potential hires, especially when they’re things other states cannot match. For me, Utah’s family-friendly vibe and quality of life are unmatched elsewhere. The state also has an entrepreneurial spirit that’s tangible and inspiring. Utah is a unique environment, but as Governor Leavitt said, “The next leaders of Utah will have to do bold things, take some risks and invest or we will fall behind. Each new group of leaders is given a baton and hopefully a bit of a lead. It’s their job to have the right vision and to run with purpose.”

As a founder, I want to build a great business, first and foremost. That’s my focus. I want to create an environment where people love coming to work, they love the mission of the company, and they want to be part of giving back to the community and the country. I’ve taken to heart what Richard Branson has to say about increasing your sphere of influence. He talks about entrepreneurs who first take care of themselves and become self-sufficient. Then, they increase their sphere of influence to take care of their families, then their neighbors, then their communities and towns. One of my greatest desires is to embrace this principle of making a bigger impact as my circle broadens — for the Utah’s next generation of tech entrepreneurs and beyond.

About Brock Blake

Brock Blake is the CEO and founder of Lendio, the largest business lending marketplace in the U.S. Brock believes that access to capital should be simpler and quicker for entrepreneurs so they can do what they do best: innovate and grow. He’s built a successful business around a solution to this problem. Thanks to a team that is passionate about driving results and making a difference, Lendio has facilitated more than $1.7B in small business loans to date. While business accomplishments can be a nice ego boost, Brock says his most important work is done as a husband and a father of four.

Read the rest of the articles in the Tech Summit 2020 issue of Silicon Slopes Magazine

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