It is nearly impossible to ignore the hundreds of businesses that line the I-15 stretch between Provo and Salt Lake City. Billboards display nationally known and local brands, while startups and grounded businesses stretch for miles in all directions.
Recently nicknamed the Silicon Slopes, Utah is making its mark as a major hub for technology and startup companies.
“Utah has gone from excelling with startups to growing these companies,” said Richard Nelson, president of the Utah Technology Council. “We have got a critical mass, especially on the IT side.”
The Utah Technology Council is the primary trade association for Utah’s 4,700 IT and clean tech companies.
Nelson said Utah is a unique place due to many factors, including the entrepreneurial spirit and work ethic that started with the first groups that came to Utah.
For many years, Utah was challenged in attracting seasoned talent because of a lack of capital; it was likewise challenged in attracting capital because of a lack of seasoned talent.
“In the last 10 years, we have changed our capital structure and improved it,” Nelson said.
A 2003 fund increase in a state economic development program increased funding from $100 million to $300 million. It is specifically designed to provide Utah entrepreneurs with access to non-traditional and alternative capital.
Qualtrics is one of many Utah tech companies to receive funding from large venture capital firms. Recently, Qualtrics received funding from Sequoia Capital and Accel Partners, two Silicon Valley-based venture capital firms with large portfolios of big names like Facebook and Apple.
“That is the reason we are able to attract the talent we have right now,” said Stuart Orgill, a co-founder of Qualtrics and BYU alumnus.
Qualtrics, a company focused on gathering insight about employees, the market and customers, hired more than 200 individuals last year and opened an office in Ireland. The company hopes to hire another 250–350 employees this coming year.
“The workforce here is as solid as anywhere else; they are incredible,” Orgill said.
Orgill said while there might be more experience in other places, Utah offers an extremely friendly work environment, with a talented core of hard workers used to rejection. He also believes that if Utah can get companies to come, those companies are going to stay.
“We have had a number of successes over the decade, and over the past few years we have had some big companies coming here,” said Startup Dojo CEO Michael Zaro, referring to companies like Adobe, Reddit and Microsoft.
Utah has been on many lists as of late when it comes to business. The state topped the list of Forbes’ “Best States for Business” from 2010 to 2012. Last year Forbes also placed Provo at the top of its list of “Best Places for Business and Careers.”
Zaro said these lists and major companies give reason to view Utah as a landmark in the technology scene. In order to stay on these lists and attract more companies, Utah must continue with innovation and technology growth and have the necessary talent to sustain the industry. The Dojo Dev Camp at Startup Dojo is helping to make that possible by training developers to have the skills to be hired at these growing tech firms.
“Part of our purpose here at the Dojo Dev Camp is to train developers that will help Utah companies ride this economic boom and continue the momentum we have seen the last few years,” Zaro said.