Cultivating Tech Innovation Along the Wasatch Front | Haystar Biz Blog

Perhaps you’ve noticed recent news articles about the growth of Utah’s tech industry. If not, take a look—CNBC, KSL, AdWeek, USAToday, New Yorker, TechCrunch. Articles like these provide some fantastic insights into the past, present, and future of the tech industry in the Beehive State. Innovation’s happening 'in the shadow of the everlasting hills' and the future looks bright.

The Salt Lake City Metro Area's transformation into a major technology hub deserves a deeper look: What elements cultivate the growth of a productive technology hub? Where do Utah's tech roots come from? What type of technology companies will you find along the Wasatch Front today? Would you know them if you saw them? (quiz yourself) And why does Utah's tech future look bright?

Innovation Clusters

While it’s true technology companies are sprinkled across the country and around the world, there are a couple metro areas that are disportionately represented. The San Francisco Bay area has been the computing epicenter for the last 40 years or so. Home to innovative startups, traditional tech leaders, and everything in between—‘Silicon Valley’ has expanded from the south bay area to engulf most of the Bay (at least to some degree). This metro area turned global technology hub has delivered the largest number of innovative tech solutions and can claim the largest number of recognizable technology brands.

There are a couple dozen (at best) companies that dominate the tech industry today. Some are names you’d recognize easily (such as Alphabet (Google), Amazon, Microsoft, Intel, Oracle, and Apple) and others you may not be familiar with (see lists of the largest tech companies by category: IT, Internet, Software, Semiconductor). One constant in technology is that there is constant change. Who would not have been on these lists 10 years ago? Who will be on them in another 10?

Seattle, thanks in large part to Bill Gates and, now, Jeff Bezos, can rightfully stake claim to the second most significant technology hub. Like the Bay Area, this beautiful Pacific Northwest city has accumulated enough of the best people, technologies, and market power to change the way the world lives and does business. Downtown Seattle is booming. Give the Emerald City another 10 years and maybe it could even challenge for the #1 spot.

Beyond the Bay area and Seattle, there are several other major technology hubs across America and around the world. In the U.S., metro areas such as New York City, Austin, Raleigh-Durham, Boston, and Salt Lake City have accumulated technical capital to be considered next tier technology hubs (see list, another list, and another). What do these technology hubs have that other cities do not? Why do tech companies cluster? And how does this behavior foster innovation?

How Does Your Garden Grow?

Cultivating innovative, health technology hubs require the investment of intelligence, capital, work, and time. Outside the major players, tech companies have a relatively short lifespan compared to other industries. It’s not a linear growth—think natural life cycles.

Compare it to starting a simple garden. Prepare the ground, plant the seeds. Give them sun, nutrients, water, and time. If all goes well, your garden sprouts, blooms, grows, and produces. Somethings will be successful while others wil not. Regardless cycles will come and go. As cycles end, new cycles begin often with seeds sown from proceeding cycles. Success and experience will encourage further exploration and investment in the garden. There’s multiplication and diversification and in time the simple garden grows to produce of a wide variety of consumables.

Like their natural counterparts, consistent, high-yield tech gardens don’t happen overnight. They generally take years of care and attention before producing in a consistent fruitful fashion. And these tech gardens work best when resources and ideas can cross pollinate between organizations. They draw strength from their intermingled roots and from what was left by those that went before them. Tech companies cluster in hubs because they grow better collectively than they do individually.

The Wasatch Front

Utah’s Wasatch Front stretches more than 80 miles from Ogden in the north down past Provo in the south. Innovativation is blooming all along this string of cities that form this metro area. Hundreds of companies—large and small—are developing, leveraging, and marketing technologies that drive a wide range of industries.

Do you know Utah tech employers when you see them? Quiz yourself and find out.

Utah's Wasatch Front technology go roots back (at least) to the personal computing boom in the 1980s. The early success of WordPerfect (word processing) and Novell (networking) transformed the technical DNA and mindset of business leaders, educational institutes, and the local workforce. The brands and intellectual assets of these companies (and others that followed—remember those things called Zip Drives) have long since been absorbed by other entities, but the seeds they sowed led to growth and expansion.

Today Utah hosts a healthy ecosystem that continues to cultivate innovative technology solutions for a wide range of industries. While certainly not inclusive (Utah Technology Council and Silicon Slopes have more inclusive lists), here’s a synopsis of how Utah based companies and/or teams contribute to some major technology segments:

Semiconductor | Hardware
Semiconductor companies have had a presence in Utah for decades. Over the last 11 years, Intel and Micron have invested billions, and made billions more from their Lehi based collaboration, IM Flash. Other hardware focused companies with a presence in Utah include: L3 Communications (networking), SanDisk (who bought Utah based Fusion-io in 2014), and Skullcandy (audio).
Systems Management
Utah’s history of systems management solutions traces back to Novell (acquired by Micro Focus). Utah based LANDesk has been in the state since the 1980s. Altiris grew with a healthy mix of former Novell and WordPerfect talent and saw incredible success before being acquired by Symantec.
Home Automation
As the IoT (Internet of Things) market grows, the availability and usability of home automation solutions will increase (Note that the IoT market is much broader than home automation). Control4 has been in this space for a while. Vivint is quickly becoming a market leader here.
eCommerce (Online Shopping)
There's only one Amazon and it’s not based in Utah. But Utah has some legitimate players in this space: Overstock has the most name recognition. Backcountry has seen success for more than 10 years. Jane is an up-and-comer that’s seen great growth. And there are other smaller speciality players.
Dear Jeff, You're smart—so smart. You didn't bet Amazon's growth on just selling books. You thought much broader than that and it has paid off. Why then keep all your intellectual capital in one geographic basket. Find a secondary tech hub. No, not the Bay area—way too expensive. We're thinking an existing, growing tech hub with a proven tech workforce. A place with stunning mountains, great skiing, and 5 in-state national parks. Would love to tell you more. Give us a call. Hypothetically Yours, Utah
Cloud Computing Services
Again Amazon dominates this space. But some Utah based companies like Mozy (now owned by EMC) and Bluehost pioneered web services. While other startups like SaltStack are developing tools that help manage cloud computing environments.
Several global technology companies headquartered outside the state have a significant presence in Utah (more than just sales offices) including: EMC, Oracle, Symantec, EBay, Adobe, Intel, Micron, and Workday. Some of these came to be through acquisition while other companies put offices here because they saw a potentially bountiful harvest from Utah's tech garden.
Enterprise and Business Software/Services
Many Utah tech companies provide a wide range cloud based technologies and services that target the B2B space. Provo based, Qualtrics (data collection & analysis tools) got its start in education (at BYU) and has expanded rapidly in corporate world. Other biz tech companies include: eFileCabinet (document management), MasterControl (process management), Workfront (project management), BambooHR (HR management), and Xactware (construction management).
The rise of cloud based computing has transitioned us into a SaaS (Software as a Service) and PaaS (Platform as a service) world. Most business software companies today offer cloud based software solutions. Business tech companies started in the last 5-10 years play in this space almost exclusively.
Big Data | Business Intelligence
Domo is the alpha-unicorn in this space with lots of investment, loads of talent, and high expectations. Other Utah companies/teams are focused on driving data analytics for specific industries. Health Catalyst, for example, is driving change in how hospitals look at data and is using analytics to accelerate sales.
Sales, Marketing, & Customer Engagement
Utah people are generally good people people (unless they are driving). Not surprising then that several corporate call centers are located here for tech companies like Comcast and eBay. While other tech companies outsource their calling to companies like Marketstar. Several Utah companies have bult business around technology solutions for customer engagement, sales, and marketing. The local list includes: InContact (cloud-based call center solution), Clearlink (online marketing), Impartner (partner/channel management), MaritzCX (customer service and research), Inmoment (customer engagement).
Web Marketing & Content Tools
Adobe (once Utah born Omniture) provides premier toolset for managing your web presence. California based Adobe continues to expand its Utah contingent. Other Utah startups have attacked niche markets like Lucid Software who wants to help you create beautiful content for the web.
Social Media
Okay, so none of the big social media players have much of a business presence in Utah—yet (Facebook?). But the company that offers you the biggest potential “social” network is based here. Yes, I’m talking Check it out—you’ll find that your network of relations (both living and dead) can grow to be quite large.
IM Flash, Adobe, and all sit along SR92—the highway that connects Exit 284 off I-15 with American Fork Canyon—as do an increasing number of technology companies. Perhaps it’s fitting (and not coincidental) that area primarily known for Thanksgiving Point—has now become the hotbed of Utah’s technology growth. The spirit of Alan Ashton's technology legacy lives on.
Education Technology
With great instructional design programs at Utah State and at other local universities, it should not be surprising that state has produced some innovative technologies and solutions for educational purposes. Pluralsight and Instructure are two Utah based companies that have seen success in this space over recent years. Smaller startups like Kuali (university administration) and ImagineLearning (early education) are focused on improving the education system.
The University of Utah has produced some pretty talented game developers. So it should not be surprising that some solid game development companies have come and gone along the Wasatch front. Disney had a studio here until recently. Mega-game producer EA (Electronic Arts) has an office in Salt Lake. There are other smaller studios that have seen success such as WildWorks which aims to create fun with substance.
Should your company be listed in one of these categories? Does it belong to a category not listed? Use the contact form below to let us know.
Fintech is the fusion of finance with technology changing the world of banking. Here locally there are a couple companies changing things in this space. Lendio is making it easier to get small business loans. MX is another local fintech company.
Healthcare IT
Innovative medical companies have been in Utah for years. Growing demand for hospitals to reduce costs coupled with emerging technologies has driven new growth in Health IT. Utah based operations include: Verisk Health (payment analytics), 3M (medical coding), Dentrix—a Utah born Henry Schein subsidiary (dental software), Solutions Reach (patient relationship management), and Alliance Health (chronic health issues management).
Software Development Services
Normally, you think of places like India and Eastern Europe when you think of outsourcing software development. Several Utah companies (like Veracity Solutions and STG) have built their businesses around being cost effective software development partners.
Innovative Technology Consumers
Even though they don’t produce technology for general consumption, multiple Utah organizations have teams dedicated to using technology in innovative ways. IHC (Intermountain Healthcare) has been a leader in driving innovative healthcare technology adoption. The NSA datacenter in Lehi is certainly pioneering the use of big data (though how, we can only imagine). There is no other Church in the world that has used technology more than the LDS Church to drive and manage its global initiatives.
The future looks bright for tech in Utah. Here are 5 reasons why.

Behind the Curtain

Investing in a new technology or technology is an act of faith. Many of the seeds of innovation don't pan out. But some do. And some do big. Entrepreneurs need people to believe in them, people who can bankroll their ideas until those innovative seeds can produce a sustaining harvest. These people—investors—play an important role in not only funding technology growth but also in mentoring companies and shaping innovation direction.

Utah has multiple venture capital groups that have moved tech forward in the Beehive State including: Signal Peak Ventures, Sorenson Capital, Epic Ventures, Peak Ventures, and Mercato. Investments have come from big and small groups outside of Utah as well including: Sequoia Capital, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (KPCB), and Silver Lake.

Can You Identify These Utah Tech Employers?

See if you can identify these Utah tech employeers. Mouse over the image for a clue. Click on the for the answer. Click on the to go to the organization website.

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5 Reasons Utah’s Tech Future Looks Bright

A strong tech industry benefits local economies far beyond those individuals who work directly for technology companies. The recent strength of Utah's economy and the growth of tech in the state are not coincidental. And Utah has many reasons to be optimistic about its future as a major technical hub:

  1. The tech garden is already planted and growing. Having a broad, diverse ecosystem of tech players and opportunities is essential to nurturing a healthy environment that fosters long term growth and innovation. Utah's proven furtile ground for future growth.
  2. Proximity. As the leading tech hubs (Bay area and Seattle) struggle with overcrowding and skyrocketing costs of living expenses, Utah provides an economic alternative within a ~2 hour plane ride. $180,000 a year in San Francisco is the equivalent of $100,000 in Salt Lake City. (calculator). In a global economy, where every dollar counts, that cost differential adds up.
  3. International experience. While the Wasatch Front is not a hotbed of cultural diversity, it has strong international credentials. Just ask the IOC about the 2002 Olympics. Thanks in part (but not completely) to the LDS Church’s missionary program, a large percentage of Utah’s workforce have international experience and/or foreign language skills. Why does this matter? Every major and most minor tech companies have a global footprint. Long-term tech success requires global success.
  4. The Wasatch Back. Above and beyond the beautiful mountains that constitute the Wasatch Front, there are never ending trails, ski runs, and rugged yet accessible wilderness areas. Throw in the 5 national parks located in southern Utah and the majestic mountains just north in Idaho, Wyoming, Montana (places like here and here); and the Salt Lake Area’s not a bad place to be.
  5. Supportive State Government. As articulated in this essay published on CNBC’s website by Governor Gary Herbert, Utah’s support for technology starts at the top. Not only does Utah’s leadership talk the talk, they walk the walk. This editorial about Senator Orrin Hatch’s contribution to driving national legislative change to foster international growth is another example of Utah’s support for tech growth.

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