Provo provides breeding ground for small businesses

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Provo has made a name for itself for being not only a mecca of Latter-day Saint socialization but also one of the best places in the country to start a business.

This may seem unexpected because Utah is located in the middle of the United States; Provo is not on a coast where business almost always booms. But somehow, start-up companies are thriving in Utah Valley. To some, like Scott Petersen, the managing director of the Rollins Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology in the Marriott School of Management at Brigham Young University, this does not come as such a shock.

Student entrepreneurs like Tyler Richards are adding to the successful start up environment in Provo. (Courtesy Matson Tanner)

“A lot of people work together to make the Utah ecosystem healthy as compared to the rest of the United States,” Petersen said. “The government here is very supportive, and we have hardworking, well-educated people with a good value system. … And then, you have universities participating at the level that they are here, BYU is among those training students to be entrepreneurs and teaching them correct principles.”

Having one of the world’s largest private universities in its city limits provides Provo with a significant boost in the ability to help teach and foster entrepreneurs. BYU currently assists in several ways, including mentoring, competitions and in-depth curriculum. The Center for Entrepreneruship and Technology also maintains relationships with several departments across campus, providing several groups of students with very real chances for success.

“By developing alliances with the engineering, math, sciences, arts and humanities departments, we are able to find those people who are most innovative and connect them with people here in the Marriott School who understand organization, structure, leadership and finance and all things necessary in order to run a business,” Petersen said. “We like to be able to connect the innovators with the executors.”

Not all start-up companies in Provo begin in the Marriott School. J.D. Schoen and Logan Bird were serving their missions for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Brazil when the idea for their company started.

“As missionaries, you don’t get to show a lot of personality in the way you dress, so we saw these watches that could be customized, and that just really appealed to us,” Bird said. “We didn’t find anything like it when we got back to the United States, so we decided to make them ourselves.”

Schoen and Bird had friends with businesses that provided contacts in manufacturing and, using their advice and resources, started up Lyke Watches. Even though they did not work through BYU, the entrepreneurs’ connections to the university provided contacts and resources that proved to be essential to the success of Lyke Watches.

“The students at BYU have helped us a lot; we have worked with students from the graphic design and photography programs that have helped us out for cheap or even free, just to get experience,” Schoen said. “Being at BYU is great because people are here from all over, so if we market to them, it’s a great way to reach the whole country quickly.”

Although they are currently students at BYU, neither Schoen nor Bird are from Utah originally, but both agree that the citizens in Provo are key to their company’s success.

Bird attributes the success they have in Provo to the city’s Latter-day Saint population.

“I think the Mormon culture helps a ton,” Bird said. “Mormon culture is very inviting and very friendly. I think that’s because it’s in the nature of their religion and what ultimately sets Provo apart.”

Even online-based start-up companies have seen success in Provo. MatchMate.me is an online matchmaking company that was started by Tyler Richards and Matson Tanner a few years ago.

“I think the community in Provo is what makes this an epicenter for entrepreneurship,” said Tanner. “Utah is a great place to start a business and is becoming better every single day. As investors begin to trust Utah entrepreneurs, there will be more available capital, which could make Utah a new Silicon Valley.”

Another reason Provo was the top-ranked city to start a business by Forbes.com is the high level of education in a variety of areas.

“If I am trying to put together an ‘A team’ for my growing business, I honestly would say Provo is one of the number-one spots to find honest, hardworking and talented people,” said Richards, co-founder of MatchMate.me.

The community standards in Provo can also make it difficult for entrepreneurs to find balance in work, family life and spirituality.

Petersen believes that entrepreneurs, not just in Provo, can have successful, fulfilling lives when prioritized correctly.

“In our faith, getting back home safely is a lot more important than making a lot of money,” Petersen said. “A good entrepreneur understands that they are putting off something today for something better tomorrow. Success in entrepreneurship is based on correct principles and good plans.”

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