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Editor's Note: This article is the third and final part of a series on Utah’s Silicon Slopes. The first two articles are linked in the article below.SALT LAKE CITY — The moniker Silicon Slopes has become the catchphrase used to depict Utah’s booming tech scene. However, while Silicon Valley and Silicon Slopes have similarities, Utah’s “slopes” are still strikingly different from “the valley.”
Dave Elkington, CEO and Founder of InsideSales, explains that from a tech standpoint, Silicon Slopes and Silicon Valley are entirely comparable, albeit at different stages of development.
“In many aspects, Silicon Slopes is like San Francisco 10 years ago. Both foster innovative companies with the power to change the world,” Elkington said. “However, culturally, the two regions can feel like different worlds, but each brings its own strengths, weaknesses and unique attributes for entrepreneurs, tech workers and the ecosystem at large. It is not a matter of the two competing against each other; they’re contributing a different environment for tech enthusiasts—and new ideas—to thrive.
From a cultural standpoint, Utah entrepreneurs are well-known for their bootstrapping mentality. Historically, capital hasn’t been as readily available in Utah, compared to that of Silicon Valley, forcing startups to be more strategic and conservative with their investments.
Dan Jimenez, COO of Chatbooks, elaborated on this particular difference. Jimenez has spent significant time both in San Francisco and in Utah.
“The economics of Silicon Valley VC firms are designed around taking moonshot-level risks, betting that one out of every 10 startups will reach billion dollar heights. But most Utah founders and investors are taking a more calculated, pragmatic approach to building companies,” Jimenez said.
While available capital is growing in Utah, Utah businesses still don’t have the access level that Silicon Valley companies currently have. This deters Utah companies from making the riskier gambles available to Silicon Valley. Utah companies aren’t able to place an unlimited amount of large bets, fail and then recreate themselves over and over again. Consequently, the businesses that make it in Utah have been sufficiently vetted.
Commenting on the whether or not Silicon Slopes would ever become Silicon Valley, Brandon Rodman, CEO of Weave, explained that the tech scene in Utah will maintain its uniqueness and shouldn’t aspire to become something it is not.
“Geographies and demographics are unique for a reason and provide different strengths and opportunities," Rodman said. "I think it is important to be in the right place for your company, and that decision should be directed by where your customers are located.
“If you need early adopters in the tech industry to get the momentum you need, then you might find success in the early days by being located in Silicon Valley (Twitter is a good example of someone who needed Silicon Valley). We have seen many examples of companies who started to grow fast in Silicon Valley, but then could not keep growing outside of their initial demographic (e.g. Secret, HomeJoy, etc…).”
“Geographies and demographics are unique for a reason and provide different strengths and opportunities. I think it is important to be in the right place for your company, and that decision should be directed by where your customers are located." —Brandon Rodman, CEO of Weave
The degree of camaraderie that exists between Utah tech companies is also unusual. While each company competes for talent and resources, an unusual spirit of inclusiveness and connectivity pervades between a lot of Silicon Slopes companies. And that is peculiar.
“When you look at Silicon Slopes, you will see it is more about building a really interesting ecosystem here than anything else. Companies help each other,” Blake Modersitzki, Managing Partner of Pelion Venture Partners, commented. “Last summer, I got invited to an event to go out and race go-karts and it was with three entrepreneurs that get together on a monthly basis to share ideas. That is unique. On one hand, they compete with each other. On the other, they help each other.”
Not only is the Silicon Slopes environment conducive to a more cooperative atmosphere, but executives are gradually having an easier time recruiting employees to move to Utah. Elkington noted that a lot of Silicon Valley executives are starting to seriously consider a potential Utah relocation.
“Silicon Slopes is a breath of fresh air for many employees who move here. We’ve moved almost 20 executives from Silicon Valley and other major markets to Utah, and they all find the lifestyle and strong business hub of the Silicon Slopes to be a significant benefit. In fact, Forbes recognizes Provo and Ogden as two of the country’s best cities to raise a family,” Elkington said.
Ultimately, when asked about whether Silicon Slopes should be renamed in order to be more representative of the unique Utah tech experience, the answers varied widely. Some CEOs believe that Silicon Slopes was aptly named, more similar than not, to Silicon Valley. The difference between the two being merely one of age and that 50 years from now the “slopes” would look almost identical to where Silicon Valley currently is.
However, others note that the two will always be more dissimilar than not, explaining that some cultural rifts between the two locations are too wide to breach, and that this wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.
“But as hard-working as Utah entrepreneurs are, unlike the Silicon Valley, the tech culture has not taken over our entire lives. There are times where we focus on work and times where we focus on family and community. When we go to our kids’ soccer games, people talk about how good our kids are at soccer—not about when the next VC round will come,” Elkington further elaborated.
Jimenez chimed in that perhaps the name should be reworked, considering that currently, only one company in Utah produces silicon chips.
“While the affiliation with such a tech super-center is flattering, Utah’s tech community isn’t simply Palo Alto with mountains,” Jimenez said. “I look forward to the day when we’re known for the unique type of companies and community we’re building here. Whether the name that ultimately sticks is Silicon Slopes or something else, I hope that simply 'Utah' can come to mean the same for those outside that state as it does for us.”