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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah is known for many things—pioneer history, conservative wholesomeness and its world famous skiing. But this state of magnificent mountains and family values is quickly gaining a reputation as a tech and startup mecca set to rival Silicon Valley.
The Silicon Slopes, encompassing the Salt Lake and Utah valleys, is one of the fastest-growing startup hubs in the nation. Ingenious ideas and tenacious developers are attracting venture capital like "The Greatest Snow on Earth" attracts ski bums, and the Beehive State currently boasts dozens of wildly successful ventures.
To get a better idea of why Utah may be the country’s next center of invention, here’s a look at four companies leading the way—and some of the secret sauce that has made them so successful.
Smart home pioneer and security leader Vivint is one of the largest home automation companies in North America. It serves over 1 million customers, and recently scored $100 million in capital investment this spring from investors like PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel and former presidential candidate Mitt Romney, according to Business Insider.
Situated in Provo, Vivint started in 1999 —under the name APX Alarm Security Solutions—and quickly expanded from security systems to home monitoring. In 2011, the business rebranded and launched Vivint Solar. Blackstone Group acquired the company in 2012, and by 2013, Vivint was named one of Forbes’s most promising American companies.
Vivint’s goal—to help users simplify their lives—is pretty cool, but the way it’s expanding its mission is even cooler. Through the Vivint Gives Back program, the company focuses on “enhancing the lives of children with intellectual disabilities through simple, intelligent products and services delivered by people who care,” according to the website. To fulfill that goal, Vivint provides discounts to families in need and is installing sensory rooms in schools and homes throughout the United States and Canada.
An environmentally-minded company committed to sustainability and supporting local farmers, Coalatree is a Utah startup known for creating organic clothing. The company’s mission has resonated with a huge following—it raised more than $15,000 in just 12 hours in a recent Kickstarter for its newest blanket.
Launched in 2010, Coalatree has quickly become more than a mere apparel company—it’s a lifestyle. Rooted in the great outdoors and the splendor of the Utah wilderness, this clothing company uses ambassadors to spread their message. Everyone from professional skaters to fly fishermen help raise awareness and promote the brand’s products.
“We wanted to create something more,” Coalatree founder Jacob “Charlie” Bessey, told PR Web. “Something that could be used not just by the avid traveler or outdoor adventurer, but by urban dwellers from all walks of life.”
Given the huge response to campaigns so far, it looks like Coalatree is succeeding in that endeavor.
Utah is home to some of the nation’s top universities, so it’s no surprise that we also have some of the most inventive brains in business today—including the co-founder of mattress company Purple. That’s right—the company was literally started by a rocket scientist.
Purple’s booming success is based on a simple concept: helping people get a good night’s sleep. The company’s founders, Tony and Terry Pearce, came up with a material that cushions the body, provides support, and doesn’t break down like other fancy mattresses—and they brought it to market for just $1,000 retail. The company now employs more than 350 people with no signs of slowing.
The genius of Purple is in its combination of affordable accessibility and humor-laden social media marketing. The company has become something of a YouTube phenom with its Goldilocks marketing video, which has over 15 million views. That same humor also helped the Utah startup blow its recent Kickstarter goal for the Purple Pillow out of the water and raised more than $2.6 million.
Skullcandy, one of the most well-known Utah startups, was born on a chairlift in Park City. Thanks to one man’s desire for ear buds that seamlessly switched between music and phone calls, the company has revolutionized the world of headphones as we know it.
Grounding itself in counterculture and street style, Skullcandy quickly became the global go-to brand for hip headphones—but the company hasn’t forgotten the mountain town where it all started. Since 2015, all revenue from Skullcandy headphones sold in Park City has been donated to support arts, sports and other community programs, according to its website.
Founded in 2003, the company went public just a few years later, and recently there’s been a bidding war to acquire what Fortune magazine once called “the world’s coolest ear buds.” With acquisition prices in the neighborhood of $188 million, Skullcandy’s booming success should be a strong vote of encouragement for other startups looking to call the Silicon Slopes (or Park City) home.
These four companies are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to innovation and tech in Utah, but they’re prime examples of the exciting growth and opportunities the Beehive State has to offer. Innovators with good ideas—and the tenacity to make things happen—are made for this great state.
What other Utah startups do you like to follow? Share your favorite below or pass this article on to help encourage the next Utah entrepreneurs to get out there and get started on their startup dreams.
Brooke Nally is native to Utah but likes to see other parts of the world as often as she can. You can contact her via email: email@example.com.