November 5, 2013

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Industry Outlook: Technology Entrepreneurs

November 5, 2013

WARNOCK: I agree. It’s all about the thinking. When I entered my degree in computer science, they showed us a video in the first year that was basically saying everything that we learn in the first two years is going to be outdated by the second two years. Right? That’s how quickly things are changing.

So teaching them hard skills, like how to code in Python, those aren’t as important. But teaching the thinking—those are the skills that will continue to last.

SLOVIK: One of the things we have to think about differently is this isn’t a closed system. We look at it as, well, if I want to hire kids in Utah, then I go to the Utah universities. Well, who goes to the Utah universities? Mostly it’s people who went to high school in Utah. So it’s a closed system where we’re trying to get explosive growth, but we’re only growing from within.

To really get explosive growth, we have to get people from around the country coming to Utah. And that’s not just coming here to start businesses, because then they’ll have the same employee problem. But how do we get people from around the country, kids in high school, to come to the University of Utah, to study here?

We have to have a program that says, “Hey, if you want to study programming or engineering, and you’re a top student and you come to the University of Utah, we will give you a free ride.” We will get the top talent from around the country coming here. And once they go to school here, they will fall in love with Utah. They will work at small businesses.

Why does San Francisco do so well? Why does Boston do so well? Because people from around the world go there to go to school. And when they go to school there, they stay there. This can’t be a closed system anymore. Closed systems cannot grow at the rate we want them to.

LEHMAN: We need to get a little more basic than that. Enve is based in Ogden. We have recruited outside of the state for the majority of our staff positions, which is really unusual for a business our size. I have no issues getting people from New York and California and anywhere in the world to come and live in Ogden. I have to keep them there. And that means their kids have to go to schools that are not in the lowest 70th percentile.

I don’t care about recruiting from the University of Utah. I care about retaining my employees that I’ve paid to relocate their families to Utah. I’ve gotten over the image thing and the cultural thing, and I’ve gotten them in Ogden. And then they look at me and say, “Now what?”

So I’m looking for just bare-bone basics from the state. And I firmly believe that the state’s approach of economic development first is absolutely the right approach. Because with economic development, we get people like us, that are invested. But now the state needs to step up and say “OK. We’ve got this momentum. What are we going to do to create those elementary schools that keep the people from Boston and Atlanta in Utah?”

BERTOCH: The economic development driver in Utah is public ed. And the reason it’s the economic driver is it takes 47 percent of all the tax money, by legislative mandate—income tax, corporate and individual, property tax—goes to public ed. They’re the biggest piece of pie in the state. They control 67 percent of the free funds that the legislature actually has to deal with. And so they’re a big driver, and if they don’t work and play well with others, it creates a big problem. Those have been the issues right from the get-go in terms of what you’ve got to do to get over some of these humps.

Let’s talk about the investor climate here. Is there enough capital?

SKONNARD: We just raised almost $30 million in December. We’re in a good space, a hot space right now—online professional training, online education. Our business is doing really well. We’re growing fast, but kind of under the radar.

Once everyone realized we were shopping around, we had a line of investors wanting to give us money—as much as we wanted. It may be partly due to our idea and our space, but we had at least a dozen firms who were very, very interested, had a half dozen term sheets on the table before we decided which firm we were going to partner with in this particular case.

And every conversation we had, they told me how hot they were on Utah. Every single one. They all usually had one or two businesses already in Utah or some they were looking at very seriously. A lot of them were expressing their disinterest in Silicon Valley and their interest in looking outside of that. And Utah was one of the places they thought very highly of. At least that’s what they told me.

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