Startup Culture in Salt Lake City, Utah

City skylineWhen most people think of big cities for startups, they’ll think of major entrepreneurial hubs like San Francisco, Portland, Oregon, and New York City. But the truth is that many smaller American cities are taking over as favored places to start a business. Salt Lake City is one of those cities.

In fact, Entrepreneur magazine published an article last August titled “9 Hot Startup U.S. Cities That Aren’t San Francisco or New York,” naming Salt Lake City the number one U.S. city for startups. The article refers to Salt Lake City as “Silicon Slopes” because it has been especially friendly to entrepreneurs in the software and hardware industries, and it lists Adobe and Workday as two of many big tech companies to have recently moved to the city. It also lists several factors that fuel the city’s entrepreneurial spirit: First, the city has historically been home to major tech companies like Novell and WordPerfect, and alumni from these companies have gone on to pioneer new, successful startups. These startups, in turn, have inspired new entrepreneurs to come and stake their claims in the area. Second, venture capitalists invested nearly $1 billion in local startups in Salt Lake City in 2014, putting the city at number one nationally in dollar-per-deal average. Third, the city happens to host the highest percentage of foreign-language speakers in the country, as many Mormon missionaries return to the area after spending time abroad.

Entrepreneur isn’t the only media outlet to analyze Salt Lake City’s entrepreneurial spirit. The New Yorker published an article in February 2015 titled “How Utah Became the Next Silicon Valley.” According to the article, there are two key traits that associate an industry with innovation: One, the industry invests a great deal in research and development. And two, the industry employs high proportions of people from the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math (collectively known as the “S.T.E.M.” fields.) Those industries that exhibit these two traits make up what Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program calls the “super-sector.” The article then explored where this super-sector of advanced industries exists in the United States, and as it turns out, three of the 15 cities with the highest concentration of employees in the super-sector are located within the state of Utah—namely, Salt Lake City, Provo, and Ogden.

The New Yorker posits that Utah has become “the next Silicon Valley” for several reasons. First, it’s where more and more tech companies are opening offices. Second, the population in Utah seems to have a cultural knack for salesmanship and entrepreneurship. Third, several local universities—particularly Brigham Young University—are graduating high numbers of S.T.E.M. students. Four, there are policies and infrastructure (namely, tax breaks and a light-rail system that connects Utah’s biggest cities) that attract businesses. And five, the Salt Lake area’s relatively low population allows businesspeople to get to know each other very well.

Overall, the startup culture in Salt Lake City and along with Wasatch Front is fascinating, and only time will will just how strongly the “Silicon Slopes” live up to their name.