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MWCN Report: More Companies are Starting, Staying in Utah

Salt Lake City—With the dizzying number of funding rounds, mergers and acquisitions announced by Utah companies, it certainly seems like the market is thriving. MountainWest Capital Network’s annual Deal Flow Report confirms it.

The 23rd annual report, released Tuesday, shows an increase in the number of capital transactions between 2016 and 2017—up to 514 last year, from 423 the previous year. Leading the charge is Utah’s tech industry, which claimed the top two spots in transactional dollars. Ivanti’s transactions totaled $1.1 billion last year, while DigiCert had a single deal valued at $950 million.

Tech companies also claimed the top three private placement transactions with Nikola Motor Company at $520 million, Qualtrics at $180 million and Domo at $115 million. However, the consumer retail segment has also been growing steadily, with Younique LLC, Woodside Homes, Inc., and Neutraceutical International Corporation all placing within the top 10 mergers and acquisitions within the consumer retail category.

The annual report is a good opportunity to take a pulse on Utah’s thriving economy, said Katie Chandler, senior audit manager with Tanner LLC and this year’s MWCN Deal Flow Chair.

“There’s always takeaways from every book and every year,” she said.

The biggest one from the past year is the decreased number of companies being taken out of Utah through mergers or acquisitions, she said.

“Historically, Utah’s been a great incubator for startups that often end up in the [mergers and acquisitions] section of our book, being bought by large out-of-state companies,” she said. “It’s good to mention that we are holding on to companies longer. Even with these out-of-state companies, [the Governor’s Office of Economic Development] tries to get them to retain their Utah presence.”

In addition to those efforts to get companies to stay, Chandler noted several Utah companies have been bucking the trend of being acquired by larger national companies. Instructure, for example, is a homegrown tech company now trading at three times its initial IPO and is the on the acquisitions end of the transaction. DigiCert’s massive deal was acquiring the much larger Silicon Valley-based Symantec Corp., which now bears the DigiCert name.

GOED uses the report often in trying to recruit companies to come and stay in Utah, said Thomas Wadsworth, director of corporate growth and business development for the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, who spoke at the event releasing the 2017 report. It helps show with easy-to-interpret data and concrete examples what residents already know—that the Beehive State is the place to do business, he said.

“We’ve got all kinds of statistics and figures that we can throw at people, but a lot of times, that doesn’t resonate with people,” he said. “There’s still some insecurity. [Companies] don’t want to be the only game in town. We can just throw the deal report in front of them. It gives them the confidence that Utah’s going to be a great place to invest for years to come.”

The report also reflects the changing face of doing business in Utah, said Herbert “Bud” Scruggs, managing director of The Cynosure Group, who was the keynote speaker at Tuesday’s event. Thirty years ago, he said, the bulk of Utah’s economy rested more or less on ten local giants and their families, but today’s landscape is far different.

“You’re seeing a very different breed of high-net worth individuals in the state that are bringing a lot of diversity and a lot more opportunities to the state,” Scruggs said. “We’re seeing a lot of growth in Utah and we’re going to be seeing a couple new unicorns I’m sure we’re going to be talking about soon.”

Chandler said the report shows some areas that could use improvement—IPO launches were thin last year, though that’s rumored to change this year—but also some categories in which local companies are rising above struggles common around the nation and beyond.

“The story globally is that early stage companies are having a hard time finding funding—a lot of investors are going for late-stage investments where they can get out faster,” she said. “We really just haven’t seen that in Utah thanks to a couple of early stage funds.”

The full report, complete with interactive graphs, can be viewed at www.mwcn.org/deal-flow/.