Killing it in 2017, an inspired year for Utah VC

Startups going slow to go fast

Utah slipped a few spots in the VC rankings for 2017, but still turned in an outstanding year.

I’ve been pretty excited to report Utah’s per capita venture funding as third highest in the U.S. in 2015, or last year seeing Utah’s VC numbers top $1 Billion (disappointingly revised down to $814 million). I love Utah and I was excited to see it bucking national trends and getting some recognition that I felt had been late in coming.

So how did 2017 shape up?

Utah companies raised a respectable $1.047 Billion across 109 deals (according to Pitchbook’s VC Monitor report).

It ranks 5th in the nation for venture capital raised per capita. That’s about $350 in VC money for every resident in the state. Ahead of the beehive state were the predictable biggies and DC. Respectively, MA, CA, DC, and NY

Utah also ranks 11th in total capital raised in the U.S., behind CA, NY, MA, IL, WA, TX, FL, CO, GA, and PA.

2017 was clearly a very solid year for companies here in Utah’s Silicon Slopes.

But you know, I admit to being just a little stung that, as the VC industry as a whole enjoyed a good year with over $80 Billion in investments, Utah’s culture, growth and startup momentum didn’t quite keep pace with the biggest states for VC.

Of course I immediately recognized my foolishness, and was reminded of a story and the principle of switchbacks.

I was born outside Seattle, but did most of my growing up in Utah.

One of the things you first notice about Utah is the landscape, the mountains. The majestic peaks are everywhere, noble sentinels whose vision reaches back before human memory and forward to a future way beyond any of us.

I love the mountains.

Something started at UC Berkeley in 1905 but perfected in Utah — akin to glorified institutionalized graffiti — is the tradition of tagging our mountains with letters. Big letters.

The Y at Y-Mount

The most prominent of these letters is the Y. The Y sits on the relatively smallish peak of Y-mount which kneels, like a short kid in the class photo, in front of the much larger Cascade mountain.

A common passtime in Provo is to hike the Y.

A short 1.5 miles and 1,000 vertical feet gets you to this giant letter and an impressive view of Utah Valley: the mountain peaks on all sides and Utah’s oversized Sea of Galilee in the distance.

The first time I hiked the Y, I was in the Boy Scouts. That was awhile ago.

There were no benches and fewer signs (the trail has improved much since then). We parked at the bottom and I remember looking straight up the steep grade to the Y. I could see it directly above us on the face of the mountain.

So I and two other boys started hiking — straight up the face.

I hadn’t noticed the trail head to the left or that the adults with us were corralling the other boys toward it. In my enthusiasm for the hike I just started off in what I believed was the shortest route from point A to point B, a straight line.

It was tough going.

We scrambled through sage brush and around stands of scrub oak; over rocks and tall grass. In the unrelenting heat we climbed straight up. We hurled our boyish energy and enthusiasm at the mountain, and eventually we conquered it, arriving at the Y spent and exhausted—to see the rest of our troop sitting down eating their packed lunches and enjoying the view.

It had been work for them too, just not nearly as much.

What we had accomplished on our own through brute force, more energy, and more risk, they had accomplished tapped into the wisdom of generations before and arrived at the same destination with energy to spare, by taking a switchback trail and effectively going slow to go fast.

I recently hiked the Y again.

It was harder than I remembered. Probably because my body is older.
But my mind is stronger. I never once doubted that I was getting to the top. That made it easy to never give up.

I realized that this metaphor applied to Utah businesses and our culture of relentless execution.

Don’t get discouraged because people pass you on the trail. Just keep going.

One of my favorite principles is the 20 mile march. This was touted by Jim Collins in Great by Choice, and echoed by Utah’s own inimitable Gavin Christensen of Kickstart Seed Fund  in Modern Vikings and Entrepreneurship.

Utah’s 2017 was it’s solid 20-mile march as it continues to build one of the greatest environments to start companies, solve problems, and change the world. If you’re looking for a place to live, work, or do great things, you’re selling yourself short if you don’t consider doing it in Utah.

@chadjardine is the Head of Marketing for @goreact, an edtech startup that makes game film for the classroom. He also teaches courses in venture financing @uutah

Leave a Comment