Due to record amounts of venture capital investment, universities churning out STEM grads, and the Mormon work ethic, Utah’s Wasatch Front could become the next Silicon Valley inside a decade, according to analysts.
It’s one of the fastest-growing tech hubs in the country, with record amounts of venture capital flowing in, and is home to at least a half-dozen unicorns (companies valued at $1 billion or more) and plenty more “soonicorns” expected to hit that mark. Universities there are churning out science, tech, math and engineering grads by the thousands, creating a highly skilled, digital native workforce. It’s home to a thriving community of content creators, giving rise to YouTube stars like Devin Graham (better known by his alias, “Devin SuperTramp”), The Piano Guys and the Shaytards, while the area has spawned chart-topping bands Neon Trees and Imagine Dragons, electronic dance music DJ Kaskade, and Julianne and Derek Hough from ABC’s Dancing With the Stars.
Are we talking about Silicon Valley, or maybe the geographic one-two punch of L.A.’s Silicon Beach and Hollywood? Nope. Rather, it’s rugged and rustic Utah, which analysts say could become the next Silicon Valley inside a decade. It is well on its way, clearly. The mountainous corridor anchored by Salt Lake City, Provo and Ogden—which has been dubbed “Silicon Slopes” (so named for its picturesque ski resorts)—is attracting investment from the likes of PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel and futurist Ray Kurzweil, while homegrown inventors and entrepreneurs have become commonplace on the competition series Shark Tank. Local digital advertising players like Harmon Brothers and Shareability have produced mega-viral videos for a variety of brands. Meanwhile, everyone from blogger Single Dad Laughing to American Idol alum David Archuleta and hairstylist/social media star Mindy McKnight lend the region a right-brain dimension to go along with its serious business cred.
“Being innovative and self-sufficient is just ingrained in our culture in Utah,” says Cameron Manwaring, co-founder of Shareability, where he is now an adviser. “There’s a fearlessness of trying new things, whether that’s a different way to do business or a creative expression. The attitude is, figure it out, make it happen.” That bootstrap mentality has long set Utah apart. With a population of 3 million that’s 60 percent affiliated with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, or LDS for short, the state’s conservative, roll-up-your-sleeves bent is evident even in its nickname, the Beehive State, a nod to the industriousness of honeybees.