Utah’s technology industry continues to face the ongoing challenge of securing a qualified workforce. At our annual technology roundtable, industry experts discussed unique methods to educate, attract and retain top talent. The group also discussed the state’s successful Fund of Funds program and other initiatives, while stressing the importance of a continued commitment to training and education in the state.
We’d like to give a special thank you to Richard Nelson, president and CEO of the Utah Technology Council, for moderating the discussion and to Holland & Hart for hosting the event.
Martin Lewis, Utah Business magazine;
Gary B. Goodrich, ProPay;
Glen Mella, Control4;
Eric Olafson, Tomax Corporation;
Adam Slovik, RemedyMD;
Rhett Edmonds, Red Sky Solutions;
Hal Widlansky, Mangia;
Matt Wells, Holland & Hart;
Monty Reagan, ViaWest;
Randy Larsen, MonaVie;
Steve Morton, Symantec;
Brian Jackson, ARUP;
Peter Csathy, Sorenson Media;
Jeremy Hanks, Doba;
Dave Cutler, Novell;
John Legge, Red Sky Solutions
Nicholas Gibbs, Rockwell Collins;
Larry Rigby, ZARS Pharma;
Richard Nelson, UTC;
Ragula Bhaskar, Fatpipe Networks
Ashok Joshi, Ceramatec, Inc.
How is the economy affecting your company? How have you adapted your business to continue being successful?
HANKS: I’m the co-founder and chairman of Doba. As far as the downturn, we’ve been very aggressive with our marketing and our positioning. We feel that this is a good time to expand and to push because we see some competitors that are not in that position to do so.
GOODRICH: ProPay is a 12-year-old firm that helps enterprises, large and small, succeed by securing their payments and providing innovative payment solutions. One way that our company has adapted to the challenging economic times is to take a core competency that we’ve had, which is securing card data from hackers, and making this available to customers. So, we store their card data for them allowing large enterprises to save millions of dollars in regulatory burden and getting them out of handling card data.
OLAFSON: I’m the CEO for Tomax Corporation. We make software and retail solutions for retail chains and, therefore, are very connected through the consumer to this economy and the downturn. However, I am very happy to report news that I probably wouldn’t have predicted three or four months ago and that is that we hope to have a flat year—flat being the new up in some respects. The connection to this economy through the consumer has obviously put a lot of retailers in a different and difficult spot. We’ve actually reinterpreted growth in terms of growing the business to more of a goal of building quality into the organization with the view that we can continue to build profitability, work on our organization and look after our customer. So in a practical sense with our customers, it means really reaching out to these retailers aggressively, doing what we can to put projects together that move the needle, that drive sales gross margin, inventory performance and labor efficiencies. And, actually it’s been a very revitalizing phenomenon for us. This economy has been a very good instructor. This economy has made us think about the business more concretely and more substantively than we have perhaps in the past. Though we may not be growing dramatically right now, internally there’s just a real strong sense of optimism about the quality of the business that we’re producing and managing.
MELLA: I am president and COO of Control4. We are a provider of hardware and software solutions for home automation. Our world didn’t really change in October like some of the financial sectors and others. We had been selling into a difficult housing market for about two years, and the big opportunity for home automation is actually not new homes, it’s connecting up and retrofitting all the existing homes out there. That’s the other 99 percent of the market. Because technology and price points have gotten to a point where wireless or wired technologies are equally affordable, we’ve actually seen a lot of dealers and resellers recast their business and doing mostly retrofits in this market. Our business grew 42 points last year, so we’re happy with that.
SLOVIK: RemedyMD is a software company in the health care business. We offer specialty specific electronic medical records. We’re one of the few companies, with all of Obama’s talk about health care and spending, that’s actually given a lot of interest in a lot of our products. But, one of the things we’ve done recently is repositioning a lot of our marketing to go after the stimulus.
REAGAN: ViaWest is a manage service provider with 16 data centers and seven different markets across the West. We’re currently the largest privately-held data center company, and basically we provide outsourced Internet infrastructure services to small and medium sized businesses. We’re actually growing this year. We’re going to hit hopefully 20 percent and grew about 35 percent points last year.
MORTON: I’m vice president of products at Symantec, which is primarily a security company. Our argument as a security company is: How can you actually secure a machine—a laptop, a desktop, a PC—if you don’t know where it is and what it’s doing? So we’re trying to be on the lead of this convergence between systems management and security. Symantec as a company continues to grow. We’ve done more off-shoring and have been aggressive in watching our cost structure. One of the things that we’ve done differently since the economy fell is we’ve started to rely more on our partners for some of the technological innovation than we have in the past. We’ve gone to some smaller companies that are more nimble and are more likely to invest with the understanding that they’ll get some of the power of our marketing team and power of our sales force and the ability to attach to those things we bring to the table if they’re willing to assume some of the risk about developing some of the new technology. So I think that’s a fundamental shift we’ve gone to in the past six or nine months.
CUTLER: I’m vice president of services at Novell, which is an infrastructure software company with almost 4,000 employees, about 1,000 of them based in Provo. We just announced quarterly earnings last week and had a slight decline in revenue, but profit was up, so we’ve done similar things to control our expenses in this economy. Things we’ve done to make the company successful primarily is around partnering with companies like Microsoft, Accenture, Deloitte & Touche to get a leverage channel for our software products.
WIDLANSKY: Mangia Technology is a venture-backed early stage technology company. We built a mobile platform connecting fans to concessions and merchandise inside the stadiums. In spite of the economy, in the last 90 days we’ve closed venture funding and launched a major consumer service here in Salt Lake with our great partners over at Real Salt Lake.
BHASKAR: FatPipe Networks makes wide area communication products for mission critical applications. We’ve been one of Utah’s fastest growing companies for the past six years. To adapt to the business climate, we’ve stepped up marketing. We set up a 78-man shop in India to do some marketing for us here, and that’s helped us.
JACKSON: ARUP Laboratories is a national reference medical laboratory owned entirely by the University of Utah. We’ve grown about 10 percent a year for the past 15 years on average, and this year is a little bit better than that. In spite of the fact that health care is not as recession resistant as people think, the laboratory business is actually very strong. But, we’re being very cautious. We know that [our strength] may not last through a really long downturn. In the meantime, we’re investing aggressively in physical buildings and IT.
LEGGE: Red Sky Solutions focuses on local area wiring networking solutions for voice streaming data solutions for our customers. This year we’re looking to grow somewhere between 25 and 35 percent. We’re not going to see the triple digit growth we’ve seen over the last three years, but we’re above flat and we continue to see steady growth in our sales.
LARSEN: What we’ve [MonaVie Nutritional Juice Company] done is actually created our own stimulus package. We’ve made enrollment into our program free for distributors, which has worked very, very well. We’ve actually stayed flat for a little bit, but that’s the new growth model. Now we continue expanding into eight countries this year. We have distribution now in about nine different countries.
GIBBS: Rockwell Collins does simulation training for airline and military pilots. The commercial civil airline market is really struggling, so that’s been a hurt. But, the worldwide military training market is very, very fast-paced and growing, so we’ve offset the loss in the commercial side with growth in the military side, and we continue to benefit from that very strongly.
CSATHY: Sorenson Media develops technology that enables video over the internet. It’s a very good time to be in that business because we’re in the early innings of Internet video. That’s across the board, not only for consumers, but also for video professionals and for media companies. Despite the economy, I’m very pleased to say that we’re expanding our offices, so it’s a good time for our business. We’re looking for engineers and we’re looking for good salespeople. In terms of what this economy has meant for our business, it actually has been very good for our business because there’s more and more of a need for businesses of all types to play video over the internet so they can better sell their products, better sell their services, better showcase their services. I’m a big believer that no matter what the economic conditions are, there is always opportunity for good ideas and getting back to some of the basics.
JOSHI: Ceramatec develops technologies related to ceramic membranes. We see tremendous opportunities now, especially with the demand for green technologies. So, our problem is actually a little bit different, it’s how do we manage this growth rather than worrying about the downturn in technology.
RIGBY: I’m in the medical device and pharmaceutical area. I currently have four little companies—three are babies and another one is an adolescent—they’re all poised for significant growth. The capital markets have a huge impact on our industry, because so many of us are pre-revenue or pre-profit. And, because of the lack of liquidity and the collapse of the IPO market and the clamming up of the institutional venture capital market, it’s a very difficult time. So we really have to live by our wits and work more efficiently than ever. And we’ve had to reduce head counts, take some products out of R&D and put them on the back shelf and focus on the near term revenue opportunities.
Building a quality workforce has been a long-time issue for Utah’s technology industry. How has the workforce changed during the last year? Are you finding employees to fill your highly specialized tech positions?
CSATHY: We are in hiring mode, and we had just introduced a new product and service. I would say in terms of the talent that is most difficult to find are the executives who have proven themselves in the past on the sales side and who can really grow the business. We’re in need of engineers and sales talent, too.
BHASKAR: Utah has a real shortage of sales people in the valley along with engineering talent. The question is: How we can go to different colleges in town and help get them to start sales programs? We have marketing programs around the state, but we don’t have a single sales program. I don’t know how many companies in Utah would like to hire more salespeople, but I think there’s a huge demand for salespeople.
MORTON: We continue to look for engineering talent that has the ability to work with offshore sites, specifically across time zones and across cultures.
RIGBY: We are constantly looking for people who are in the quality assurance area very specific to medical with broad experience also in not only FDA GMPs, but with international regulations—those type of people are hard to find here. They’re in Utah, but there aren’t enough of them and there’s not a generation being developed.
MELLA: Control4 technology is in people’s homes, so employees must be very personal and intimate with people. We’ve had difficulty recruiting the talent we’ve needed in the area of interaction design and human factors and user interface to the degree we’d like. There are some of those people in the area, but they’re fewer and farther between.
GIBBS: We have similar issues, and we have actually very aggressively pursued distance work. For example, there are a lot of gamers in this valley. But, there are few people who understand gaming and simulation, particularly military training or airline training, and those people largely don’t want to live in this valley.
What recommendation do you have for our new Governor Gary Herbert to improve Utah’s business environment.
RIGBY: North Dakota has passed a law that allows a 40 percent tax credit up-front—40 percent of the total angel investment that they make in that state. So, all of these people are coming out of the woodwork wanting to invest in angel deals, and the angel community has just sprung up overnight in North Dakota with big bucks.
NELSON: Sounds like it’s time for an angel tax cut.
JOSHI: I think it’s about stimulus money that Obama is giving away. I think we should get our fair share because we don’t get our fair share of federal R&D dollars.
OLAFSON: Here’s one more piece of advice: Stay the course. Governor Huntsman has really put this state in a very favorable light nationally. We have our good news in the economy locally, but anything that the new governor can do to preserve that and to continue to drive the themes that were responsible for Utah’s success are very important.
As a proven technology leader, what one principle has been most valuable in building your leadership skills and why?
GOODRICH: Some of ProPay’s success has come from enabling our major department heads to run the business. And that involves me as a CEO letting go of the reins a little bit. Sometimes it’s about just letting competent department heads run the business while you get out of their way and enable them.
CSATHY: I think that passion and what flows from passion is a critical piece, as trite as that may sound. What I’ve found in terms of my hiring has been that we’ve been very fortunate to attract people who think of their job as more than just a job. It is extremely important to communicate the mission and get people on board with the mission. I think that is critical because passion flows from believing that you are on a mission.
As an entrepreneur, what sacrifices have you made to ensure your company’s success?
BHASKAR: Entrepreneurs must be willing to put in long hours. I think all of us would agree that inspiration is 1 percent and perspiration is 99 percent. And, make sure you stay focused.
WIDLANSKY: I’d have to say a sacrifice entrepreneurs make is having to live with investors. That’s a heavy price to pay—having to give up control of your vision and your passion to folks who write a big check. But at the end of the day, it’s not really the devil’s bargain because you get the better end of the deal. You get to do something that you’re passionate about and create something.
HANKS: Entrepreneurs risk everything. You need to be prepared to put every single other thing in your life at risk and that includes your family and it includes your kids.
MELLA: I’m right with that line of thought. It’s a never-ending challenge to achieve balance in our different roles. We all have other roles besides leading our companies that are important to us in our lives, and trying to keep those roles afloat while trying to lead a company toward the promised land is challenging.
SLOVIK: I’d say the biggest sacrifice is not necessarily being liked or being hated or vilified. There are times when you have to do cuts or layoffs. There are a lot of things entrepreneurs have to do that you don’t necessarily want to do. The first time you see your name in a chat room where people are writing about you can be tough.
LARSEN: I’ve always been an entrepreneur, and probably the challenge for me has been going from being an entrepreneur to running a multinational company and getting bogged down by the bureaucracy and the processes and systems and people—all those things you have to put in place rather than just shooting from the hip, which entrepreneurs tend to do in the beginning. So giving up some of that creativity to make things happen right now, and to pull the trigger versus going through all sorts of things—it can be frustrating. And that frustration is part of the reason I think we become entrepreneurs—because we want to be the guy that pulls the trigger. Then we build the company that ties our hand. That’s probably been the biggest sacrifice for me.
RIGBY: I think to be successful you really have to be peripatetic. You have to be around business all the time. You can’t hide in your office. You can’t avoid things. You must get to know people, and in this environment that takes time. Being on Delta’s platinum list is a sacrifice—if you’re on that list, your life is probably miserable.
How is social media changing your business?
HANKS: Social media is changing the way the world works. But, I don’t know if it’s helping companies grow, yet. We’re trying things at Doba with Facebook and Twitter and other social media areas, but I think they’re a transitional step of where the world is going. We’re focused on them as now we need to do it because it’s the next big thing and we can generate leads or customers or branding or whatever. But I think it’s a very fleeting thing. If you focus on Facebook, for example, then all of a sudden the world shifts very quickly in the next five years, 10 years and where are you?
I try to [use social media] myself. That’s why I have a blog. I’m trying to understand what might be happening. I’m afraid social media is moving so fast that the way people interface, interact, communicate, associate, network and build friends will drastically change.
WIDLANSKY: I think understanding that social media is an evolutionary step in marketing is key. We use social media. We use Facebook. We use Twitter. We’re using every arrow in our quiver, because we recognize that that’s how we connect to the customer.
I’ve got a son who is going off to college next year, and it was not a question of whether he would have a laptop, it was how many pieces of technology was he going to pack. Frankly, he’s got more technology items than clothes. So recognizing that that generation is always going to be connected and that’s the way you’re going to reach them. It’s not going to be billboards or radio ads or television. It’s going to be banner ads. It’s going to be banners that are interactive games that tie into a Facebook group, that sell him some product. It’s understanding that it’s extension of marketing. It’s not something that’s in a silo. I’ve been working on the Internet for 15 years now, and I’ve seen it go from banner ads to interactive banner ads to e-mail marketing. And I think understanding that using status updates on Facebook and Twitter to drive some of your product is the next step. And the question is: What’s the one after that, because I need to be doing that
MELLA: I also think you’ve got to do more than just have your firm to do it. I think executives have to be part of social media. If you’re not micro-blogging, if you don’t have a Facebook site or a Web presence yourself, you’re missing a learning there that to lead your company, you must have.
JACKSON: Our biggest workforce need is medical technologists, which there aren’t nearly enough training programs in the country. So, one of the contributors to the solution is online which flows very nicely with social media. We’ve partnered with Weber State University to promote their online medical technologist training program, and we expect some dividends out of that one.
GIBBS: I think a related topic is to focus on not just reaching out to the millennial generation, but to also focus on educating the older workforce. The older workforce needs to know how to work with the millennials and what those relationships ought to be. Right now, there’s a big gap there. Our little facility has recently learned more about how to interact, what to expect and what the different diversity requirements are of those different generations, and they’re enormous. Today’s groups don’t understand each other. The middle-aged manager does not relate to the incentives of the younger workforce and the other way around. That educational process is a big thing for your middle managers.
Over the past five years, Utah’s technology industry has worked hard to create the Utah Fund of Funds program. What effect has it had on our state in the past three years of its operations, and what would you hope the newly passed $200 million increase will accomplish?
GOODRICH: I’m thrilled about the Fund of Funds program and the progress it’s made. Undeniably, it’s brought a lot more venture capital opportunities to Utah start-ups. I wish it had been here in our early days when we had to remortgage our homes and sign personal guarantees repeatedly to save the business. In the past four or five years, we’ve been buying stock back, and so we’ve not had a need for capital. But I’m excited about the future entrepreneurial opportunities with the wave of the capital that came to the desert before it didn’t have an oasis.
NELSON: We still have gaps, but the financial landscape here has fundamentally changed.
Talk about experiences you’ve had raising capital in Utah. Are you finding the monies to fund your companies?
WIDLANSKY: Clearly, Utah is not Silicon Valley. There aren’t 87 venture capital firms with a billion dollars in investment capital sitting on the sidelines on State Street, but the reality is in the last five or six years we’ve doubled the number of venture capital firms that are based here and we’ve at least tripled the number of venture capital firms that are investing here. I hesitate to say it hasn’t been as bad as everyone says. If you have a good idea, there’s still money out there. You’ve just got to be persistent. You’ve got to shake every tree. There’s a half a dozen angel groups in the state. And, when you stitch together angel capital and early stage venture capital, you can get enough to get to the next milestone. So there’s certainly capital out there. I think being a Utah-based company helps, because frankly you’re not just looking at California venture capitalists. For example, we talked to VCs in California, and none of those firms have used the fact that we’re in Utah against us. Frankly, they recognize there’s a lower cost of labor, there’s a lower cost of living and you can build great things. The challenge is convincing them to let you stay here.
RIGBY: I agree with Hal [Widlansky], but I would say that in terms of later stage or investments from in the range of $5 million plus, we’re in good shape because so many of the new venture funds in Utah are later stage. In fact, most of the venture funds that I dealt with in the 1980s now that were regarded as big funds, say at $100 million, now have morphed into half a billion dollar funds. The partners figured out they could just get bigger fees by doing that.
I think what’s actually hurting is that VCs can’t make investments in the $500,000 to $5 million range. The $500,000 range is probably well taken care of by the emergence of the angel community here. We now have five or six angel groups in Utah, and they’re very active, and they syndicate together—it’s very gratifying and it’s working. But it’s that valley of death, we call it, between $500,000 and $5 million, particularly in our industry, that’s very, very hard to get. I recommend that a message be given to the gatekeepers who are placing that money that it be put into funds that are in the range of $100 to $150 million that are interested in that space of $500,000 to $5 million. There are at least 20 medical device companies that I know of, and I see a deal a month through the Life Science Angels, that are just going through that valley of death and having one hell of a tough time with it. And it’s particularly tough on our industry because it takes a certain type of investor to invest in our business. So if we had a $100 million fund that just invested in medical devices, there would be enough deal flow here and we would see an enormous uptake of economic activity.
CHECKETTS: I think what needs to take place and what is taking place is a sophistication in the market with both the investor and the entrepreneur. I think if you were to go back five years ago, raising capital in Utah would be more of an investor taking advantage of the entrepreneur. Gary [Goodrich] mentioned that entrepreneurs had to mortgage their homes and put personal guarantees on everything. The rest of the capital world does not necessarily operate how Utah operated five years ago. But Utah with the Fund of Funds program is getting there.
I think educating entrepreneurs on what kind of capital they should be looking for and bringing in outside forces of capital inside Utah to invest the way they should will ensure that we’re building companies and not just trying to put money in pockets. And I think that is a significant transition that needs to take place in order to build great, great companies.
What else is needed to complete this funding continuum?
RIGBY: Sweeten the deal for the angel investors with a tax credit. That will double or triple the angel money available if we do something like North Dakota did.
HANKS: It’s a matter of convenience. Doba has never raised capital and we tried. We looked at doing it probably a year and a half ago, because we wanted to do some things, and we decided that we’re just going to be a company that doesn’t need capital. We just don’t like investors. However, we went to the coast and we met with VC groups, and what we found is they didn’t have the time. These venture capitalists are managing their own time, and a company in Utah is an inconvenience for them because they don’t come to Utah, so it’s a hassle. So take some of the money and buy a set of condos up at Park City and say if you’re involved in the Fund of Funds, you can use the condo. Or, maybe we should build a little VC resort here. But it is an issue. You look at the investors that do deals in Utah from the Bay area or somewhere else, and they have reasons to come here. Sometimes they’ve come here because they’ve done deals and they’re already here so now they might as well do more deals. Or some might own a place in Park City or somewhere else in Utah. Strategically, if I were to pour in $200 million, I would try to find people who are already coming to Utah or who would want to come to Utah and put them on my short list.
BHASKAR: I think another thing is six or seven years ago this concept of a public policy meeting started. The first idea was to fill this valley of death to $5 million. That was the original thought process of getting the Fund of Funds going, but then it morphed into what it is today. How can we go back and give guidelines? We would like you to focus in this half a million to $5 million range. That’s where our shortage is. That was the thought process of the Fund of Funds, but it just seems to have changed.
SLOVIK: I’m always surprised when I see entrepreneurs and their companies being incorporated by their cousin’s divorce attorney or someone like that. The agreement structures are then all kind of weird and they’re asking for money with no understanding of what term sheets are or valuations, and it just comes across a little bit as provincial, and some investors are not going to deal with it. Any guidance we can give upfront to entrepreneurs is helpful. We need to say, “Hey, here is how you do it. This will help you down the road tremendously.”
RIGBY: I think that’s changing. Entrepreneurs are becoming more sophisticated. You would see that all the time in the 1980s. Now it’s fewer and fewer, and the reason is that the Utah Tech Council (UTC) has programs where they talk about entrepreneurial things. And the business schools here now, Westminster specifically, have guest speakers who talk about valuations and those kinds of things. I think the emergence of the angel investors community also plays a major role in that. Finally, I think the Wayne Brown Institute has seminars and forums that are very, very valuable for entrepreneurs. And I think the more that we keep that environment going, we’ll get even more sophisticated. And, if we have more senior entrepreneurs who are helping to develop new entrepreneurs, we’ll come an even longer way.
Performance metrics are essential to driving a company’s success. Give an example of a performance metric that really has made a difference to your company’s success.
REAGAN: At ViaWest, it’s a churn. We look at our customer loss, which we’ve focused on during the last several years, and we’ve actually maintained one of the industry’s lower churn rates, which is less than 1 percent. With the recent economic downturn, it’s gone up to one-half to 2 percent, a little higher than normal. A lot of that is due to companies going out of business or funding problems. We looked at it to decipher whether it was our customer service or whether it was the economy. So, it has really been an important metric that has helped us overall with our customer service.
MORTON: Our performance metric has been new sales to existing customers. We look at how much of our business is to existing customers who are buying a broader part of our portfolio. And I think it’s an indication of their overall loyalty and happiness with the product. It’s also an indication of our strategy, whether it’s working or not.
CUTLER: Sales to new customers is our performance metric. We’ve kind of mined our installed base to death, and we’re looking for new sources of revenue.
LEGGE: We focus a little bit on both. On existing customers, what we’re trying to do is to go in a little deeper and a little wider with the vendors that we support. We’ve also got an aggressive marketing campaign to go after new customers, where we go in shallow at first and then work overtime to go in deeper and wider.
MELLA: We want to be our biggest critics. We have a regular process of each of the leaders of the company routinely presenting their departmental metrics to everybody else, so that those outside the silo can give it the man-on-the-street gut test and say that does or doesn’t make sense. They’re always evolving. The metrics that we reviewed as a leadership team this year are quite a bit different from what they would have been two or three years ago. And that culture and trying to find those real key indicators in your area that are signs of health and vibrancy in the business has been a great passion for the team, so we just keep doing it.
What advice would you give to someone looking to start or grow a company?
HANKS: The number one metric most companies mention is how many employees they have. That’s the wrong metric. You want to focus on the employees you don’t have, and the reason you don’t have them is you don’t need them. Because employees are a giant hassle, bottom line. Build your business with the fewest number of people you possibly can. Focus on metrics. You need to know what your revenue is per employee, what your operating margin is and what your variable cost is as your business scales. Those are the kinds of metrics you should focus on. I’ve learned that the hard way with Doba. We have a decent chunk less employees than we had at the top because we’ve rebuilt our business over a couple years and reframed it and built it way more scalable. I take pride that we have less employees working for me than at our peak. We all want to create jobs, but you really want to create probably as few jobs as you possibly need to.
How has the perception of Utah outside of the state affected your company? Is there something that you would change about the state’s image?
SLOVIK: The alcohol rules. We’re making a progress definitely, but when I try and bring people from out of state here, inevitably one of the first things they talk about is our alcohol rules.
BHASKAR: Regulation of securities. We need to start regulating fundraising schemes and scams.
OLAFSON: I think the Governor really got the point that Utah has a brand, and he was actively promoting that. I think that’s why Governor Herbert needs to stay the course. I think there is very positive momentum in terms of the outward perception of this state, its culture and people. We have this dynamic that’s growing. For example, what’s happening downtown is attractive to people from the Bay Area and so forth. Hopefully we can continue to provide the energy behind that initiative.
WELLS: Utah is getting noticed. The venture capital in the Rockies and the latest Wayne Brown report said that Utah deal flow was better than Colorado, better than any of our neighbors. We can’t compare with Silicon Valley, but people are coming here. People are looking for money in Utah. That’s an achievement.
WIDLANSKY: But to go back to the stay the course comment, I think the last five years have really been transformative for the state. I mean, even if you look at my company, Mangia, none of the four members of my management team are from Utah. None of us grew up here. We’ve all chosen to come here, live here and build a great company here. If you looked at Utah’s landscape five years ago, it was very different. There weren’t a lot of folks who were looking at Utah as a destination to build a company. I think that’s changed dramatically and I think staying the course is exactly where we need to be.
CSATHY: I think that we’re still not telling the story of how amazing Utah is. I’m based in San Diego and I’ve been in digital media technology for 20 years. It certainly wasn’t clear to me prior to coming on board how much talent is here in Utah and how many large companies that I’ve heard of for a long time are based right here in Salt Lake. One of the most important things from my standpoint in building any company as a CEO is to get the word out and to raise the visibility of the company. Getting more press out here is really important. Establishing an ongoing relationship with your customers with some of the things we were talking about with social media can work wonders that can lead to benefits for all businesses that are in the city.
JACKSON: Faculty talent is pretty critical. You’ve got a university in the middle of a technology community. Historically, the outdoor recreation opportunities have been a huge positive draw for the University of Utah, and I’m really hoping that all that has been done with the technology commercialization office will help people understand the opportunities that exist beyond just pure academics, because I don’t think that word has gotten into the broader academic community, yet. Utah really is a hotbed for inventing stuff in the university setting and being able to start businesses.