Silicon Slopes: a hub for tech entrepreneurship you need to know about
Utah is not just known for their snowboarding and Mormon lifestyle. Technology and entrepreneurship are booming in the State, especially in the area known as Silicon Slopes.
This area that goes from Salt Lake City to Provo has become one of the most diverse tech hubs in the U.S. The nickname combines the region’s tie to technology and Silicon Valley, with the mountains found all over the place.
The area also has a long history of entrepreneurship and is home to a well-known cluster of IT, software development and hardware manufacturing tech companies such as Adobe, Ancestry.com, SanDisk, Overstock, Vivint, eBay, and more.
From September 24th to October 1st, Daniel Castro and myself visited Silicon Slopes, with the aim of getting to know better the Utah entrepreneurial ecosystem on-site.
Keep reading if you’re interested in our top three impressions of this booming technological hub.
Technological history: it’s not just for Silicon Valley
Utah is a state known for many things: its beautiful scenery, its large Mormon population, and skiing facilities. But what you may not know is that Utah has a rich history of tech innovation that goes back well before the days of Facebook and Google.
The state is home to some of the most impressive technological achievements in history, including the first electronic television transmission in 1927, which was operated by Philo Farnsworth—a man who also invented the first all-electronic TV set.
Utah is also home to the spawning of Atari, which we all know and love for its retro gaming systems (and modern ones too). Nolan Bushnell, the company’s iconic founder, was born in Clearfield, Utah, and studied at The University of Utah before moving to Sunnyvale, California and founding Atari.
The state has also been home to a number of early tech companies and founders that have had an impact on the technology industry as a whole and attracted more businesses to the area such as:
- Evans & Sutherland, which was founded there in 1968 by David Evans and Ivan Sutherland as the world's first computer graphics company (in operation for over four decades supplying advanced computer graphics technologies to the market);
- John Warnock, a co-founder of Adobe Systems;
- Alan Ashton, co-founder of WordPerfect;
- David C. Evans, founder and first chairman of the University of Utah School of Computing;
- James H. Clark, founder of Silicon Graphics, Inc; and
- Edwin Catmull, co-founder of Pixar.
The first wave of the tech scene in Utah began in 1979 when two companies, WordPerfect and Novell, were founded. Novell was a software development company that produced programs to network computers together so they could share peripheral devices like printers and hard drives. As desktop computers became more affordable, Novell captured a large segment of the market with its NetWare program. At their height in the early 1990s, Novell controlled 65% of the market for network operating systems in the high-tech industry.
A second wave of tech companies came along in the 1990s with the founding of Omniture by Josh James and Jeff Taylor. During that same period, Utah became known on the world stage after hosting the 2002 Winter Olympics—and it's been riding that wave ever since! The 2009 acquisition of Omniture by Adobe for $1.8 billion led Adobe to establish a permanent presence in Utah.
In more recent years, Utah has spawned a number of unicorns. From SaaS unicorns like Route (which made Forbes’ 2021 list of Next Billion-Dollar Startups) to e-commerce giants like Overstock, dozens of tech influencers are either headquartered or have satellite offices in Silicon Slopes.
Many companies take advantage of Utah’s pro-business climate and Silicon Slopes’ innovative culture include:
- EA Sports
- Zions Bank
One of the most interesting aspects about this new hub is its diversity. The area has welcomed a diverse group of people and companies to its laid-back, welcoming vibe—and they've responded in kind. Young families are flocking here to find affordable housing, good public schools, and the ability to build their own small businesses or work for larger ones.
Utah has a lot going for it when it comes to creating a thriving business ecosystem: a streamlined tax code; tax incentives; an educated workforce; and a strong emphasis on entrepreneurship and innovation.
But there’s more than just business happening in the area. Silicon Slopes has also made tremendous progress toward becoming more open to entrepreneurs of every background—particularly underrepresented minorities such as women—, and seeks to take a leading role in the region’s diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives.
Diversity isn't just an issue of recruitment, it's an issue of culture. Companies at Silicon Slopes are making an effort not just to look for more diverse employees; they're looking for highly talented people who can help them reshape the culture. And this means every person at every level of a company—from the boardroom to the mail room—has a responsibility to make things better by being themselves and speaking up when they see something that needs changing.
After all, diversity is more than just a buzzword—it's a catalyst for innovation!
Commitment to the local community
Silicon Slopes is not just a bunch of tech companies. They're a community.
The area has retained its small-town community feeling while still being a hub for growth. Something that we particularly notice when talking to different partners and companies, is the commitment and contribution to the local community:
- It is home to a huge number of ambitious young graduates from the University of Utah and Brigham Young University. And as the area is still growing, there's plenty of talent to go around, which means companies can hire them young and promote internally to build the kind of team that can drive success.
- It is highly valued that companies have a real commitment to focus on empowering people: investing in their learning path, fostering a collaborative work culture, and a people-focused mindset.
- Money or just business services are not what motivates close partnerships between companies, but the most important thing is the validation of trust and alignment in values focused on collaboration.
- The contribution to the community and the social impact that a company/person can generate is very important: charity volunteering, coaching sessions, workshops, among other initiatives are highly praised
One of the best things about the tech scene in Silicon Slopes is that there are plenty of events for startups, like Silicon Slopes Summit and Pitch Competition that are a great way for entrepreneurs to bring new ideas in an ever-changing business environment. I recommend attending to as many of these as you can, especially when you’re first getting started. New businesses face different challenges and through these platforms you can share your ideas, learn and grow through top business leaders too. When you’re passionate about what you do, it’s clever to feed off of the energy of other people.
And best of all, you learn more from other innovators. The collaboration and information exchange eliminates the feelings of isolation that a lot of startup founders feel. This is a concept known as "connecting with your tribe," and it’s something that more entrepreneurs need to embrace.
Whether you want to start a business in tech or anything else for that matter, making a name for yourself means that networking is the key to success. Instead of focusing on how many people there are in the same field as you (which can be very discouraging) try looking at how many successful entrepreneurs there are who have found success in their field.
It seems like everyone here has a vested interest in making sure people and businesses grow—and why wouldn't they? It's not only good for morale (which means more productivity), but it also makes a sense of belonging to the community stronger.
Silicon Slopes serves as an interesting example of a tech cluster that is growing in size, scope and influence. It has already seen great change, and there is a lot more to come in the coming years, becoming one of the most prevalent startup hubs in the country with its innovative tech companies.
While still most well-known for their ties to the larger Valley, it is their own growing community that should inspire us all. It seems to be a region where people love living in, and they support and celebrate the vibrant business community that contributes to it.
This shows how a group of like-minded people can push into the future together and form a new hub of technology. Silicon Slopes is an exciting place in Utah and in tech, period.
Related Read: [Silicon Slopes Summit: a World-Class Business & Tech Event]