The Startup Building: A hub for Provo’s entrepreneurial spirit

The iconic Startup Building chimney was constructed in 1898 by the Startup family. The Startups were candy makers who brought their business from England all the way to Provo. (Photo courtesy of Startup Building)

Provo residents may recognize the Startup Building from its towering chimney, container yard turned courtyard, exposed brick or rustic feel.

The building, which was originally a candy factory, was constructed more than 120 years ago by the Startup family. Today, the building is all about a different kind of startup.

While living in Palo Alto, California, Tom Taylor was the owner of an old warehouse that he said was having a hard time keeping tenants in.

“I visited a friend in San Francisco who was an artist, and he was in this big art studio complex. It was just an old warehouse, just cut up into these funny little spaces. And I thought, ‘Ah, we can do the same.’ So we did,” he said.

This new initiative was extremely successful, Tom said, as they were making more money than when they had a single tenant, but were actually charging the artists less than they would expect to pay elsewhere.

“(The artists) created a community that was just fantastic. They had a lot of art shows, and they loved to go into each other’s studios,” Tom said.

The Startup Building during the renovation process. The family had to strip the building to the bones for the desired look. (Courtesy of Tom Taylor)

After moving to Provo, the family ended up trading the warehouse in Palo Alto for the Startup Building and the Hide & Fur building, he said.

Anders Taylor, Tom’s son who now manages the building with his wife, Courtney Taylor, had just graduated from BYU in 2011 and worked alongside his father in the renovation of the Startup Building, Tom said. 

“We started from the ground up, it was really crummy, you know, that area of town was just nowhere, just not on the map — tumbleweeds in the parking lot every week. And the Frontrunner wasn’t there. There were no apartments near. It was just, it was rundown,” Tom said.

Courtney said the state of the building was “terrible” and “so gross.”

“We thought we were going to find a treasure so we emptied it by hand, throwing everything out of a window from the third floor into a big dumpster below. Most of it went into the dumpster,” Tom said.

Once the building was stripped back to the bricks and beams, city officials approached the Taylor family and asked if they would host BYU’s startup accelerator in the building, Tom said.

One of the common rooms in the Startup Building. The Taylor’s strive to make the space as collaborative as possible. (Courtesy of Startup Building)

“It’s called an accelerator because they bring in mentors and different types of help. They’ve got partners that help with legal stuff, and banking and all these different things. And they just focus on these companies and helping them grow. They’re able to grow in an accelerated fashion,” Anders said.

Owlet is one of the companies started by BYU students that have come from this type of accelerator, he said.

“They made these baby monitors. It’s like a little sock that goes on your baby’s foot and then alerts you if they’re not getting enough oxygen in the middle of the night,” Anders said.

After a successful startup accelerator, the Taylor family had their sights set on developing a brand for the building, they said.

A friend of theirs ended up connecting the family with the CEO of a top marketing company, the same one who was responsible for Utah’s “Life Elevated” slogan, Tom said.

“The main thing he wanted to get across to us was to not use the name startup. He said, ‘That’s the equivalent of calling it failure. 90% of startups fail. Don’t call it failure,’” Tom said.

A private office in the Startup Building. this needs to be a full sentence There are over 30 offices throughout the building. (Photo courtesy of Startup Building)

After trying a few different names, the Taylor family ended up going against the CEO’s advice, Anders said.

“We ended up repainting it to the Startup Building. And it’s fun because the Startup Building, it really hearkens back to the history of the building and the Startup family who built it. The Startup candy company that was there. But also, everybody that sees the Startup Building thinks, ‘Oh, it’s the place for startup companies.’ And they’re right, it is,” he said.

One of the main endeavors was to make the office space as open and collaborative as possible, Anders said.

“We really discovered that there’s just such a strong entrepreneurial community here in Provo and Utah Valley … we realized that we were going to try to cater to that demographic,” he said.

The building has about 35 offices scattered throughout, Anders said, but it also has an event space on the main floor and courtyard that can hold up to 300 people. This space is usually used for weddings.

“(The Startup name) kind of ties into the whole wedding thing also because weddings are the most intimate startups,” Tom said.

The event space decorated for a wedding. full sentence! The main floor and courtyard can hold up to 300 people. (Photo courtesy of Startup Building)

Seeing how the community has engaged with the space has been one of the most fun parts of managing the building, Courtney said.

From 2014 to 2018, the Startup Building parking lot was the venue for Provo’s Food Truck Roundup, Anders said.

The weekly event started off with just a few food trucks, Courtney said, but it became a massive hit quickly, even though the family did no marketing for it.

“One week, we had 40 trucks and we probably had like 3000 or 4000 people come,” Anders said.

Provo residents have hosted art walks, concerts, markets and countless other events at the Startup Building, the family said.

These events, as well as the collaborative office space, have helped to bring the community together, Courtney said.

“I think in terms of influencing the community, I think you have a lot of people who are working out of their garage, or a spare bedroom or that sort of thing and they don’t really have a place to graduate to. The Startup Building has really sort of drawn on that entrepreneurial nature across the city, and given them a place to, you know, kind of aspire to … I think that the entrepreneurial spirit has always been here,” Tom said.

Looking toward the future, the family said they want to continue making the space as conducive to collaboration as possible.

“It’s kind of like a sculpture where first you’ve got the big hammer, the big chisel, and you’re sort of roughing it out. And I think now … we’re working with smaller chisels and improving,” Tom said.

Those that are interested in learning more about the Startup Building’s event and office space can read more here.

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