Convoi Ventures is backing Utah’s web3 companies
Trent Mano and Scott Paul make no secret of the fact that they love Utah. Together, they’re partners in Convoi Ventures, a new fund investing in pre-seed Utah businesses and web3 companies.
Paul is a long-time angel investor well known in the Utah blockchain world, and Mano has been around the startup world for a while. Mano says that he could see Utah’s business ecosystem maturing in the number and quality of startups coming out of the state, along with the number of venture funds and angel investors funding those businesses.
What wasn’t evolving was the early funding stage: pre-seed investors that will take a chance on founders before anyone else will. It became “really, really obvious,” he says.
“We just saw a big gap that existed in the earliest stage of startups. We are super passionate about Utah and where Utah is going and are bullish on the opportunity here,” Mano says. “We mixed our passion for helping founders and passion for the Utah startup scene and the big gap that existed—that’s why we decided to start this fund.”
Officially, Convoi Ventures launched in January 2022, and they’ve already begun investing. Paul and Mano see about 80 Utah startups per month and invest in about three. Most of Convoi’s investments are in the web3/blockchain sphere and other areas of technology.
It’s no secret that Utah’s tech scene has been on the rise for years. Dubbed the “Silicon Slopes,” the valley has given rise to numerous emerging technology companies, from now well-known companies like Qualtrics and RTFKT to what can seem like a constant stream of up-and-comers. That doesn’t mean it’s easy to stick with in-state companies.
“FOMO (fear of missing out) is real for investors,” Mano says. “Seeing my investor friends here in Utah announcing really awesome deals in really awesome startups out-of-state—to be perfectly honest, there are moments where I’m like ‘Should we be investing outside of the state?’ But our goal is that any company that raises a seed round, we’ll at least have seen and had the opportunity to invest in them. Six months in operation, I can say that we’re well on our way to doing that.”
Of the funds they’ve invested in so far, Mano estimates it’s about 45 percent Utah County startups, 45 percent Salt Lake County, 5 percent Park City, and 5 percent elsewhere in the state. Mano says that while they won’t end up investing in over 95 percent of the companies they talk to, they try and help those people through some sort of connection or constructive feedback.
That’s important. At the pre-seed stage, none of these companies have sales yet, which means the decision to invest often comes down to the founder. Mano prefers to invest in people he’s known for a long time—those who have built a successful business in the past or have moved through the ranks of a corporate job. For those he doesn’t know, it’s more difficult.
“I’m a little bit untraditional in how I talk to founders because I actually don’t really focus on the business very much,” he says. “I want to really understand them: how they tick, why they care about the space, what they’ve been through that makes them resilient enough to do one of the hardest things, which is building a startup.”
Another emphasis for Mano and Paul is investing in diverse founders and focusing on gender and ethnic diversity. So far, about a third of the founders that Convoi has backed come from diverse backgrounds, Mano says.
“We’re not a socially-driven, mission-driven company in that regard,” he says. “We just think Utah represents a lot of opportunity that is undercapitalized. We think underrepresented founders are a huge opportunity that a lot of people aren’t paying attention to like they should. The way that we’ve done that is made sure that more of our investors, our LPs, are coming from diverse programs, and we have a bunch of programs that we’re working on that people will see soon of us rolling out that will really focus on diversity and make sure that we’re investing in diverse founders.”