Economic Summit: Increasing Local Capital for Utah’s Entrepreneurs

Salt Lake City—As Utah’s entrepreneurial sector gets hotter and hotter, a question remains: how will those startups get funding, and where will it come from?

A panel of entrepreneurs and industry pros discussed the question at the 2017 Utah Economic Summit Friday. One of Utah’s strengths, at least for the earliest stages of investment, is its tight-knit communities willing to lend a helping hand, said Jeff Burningham, founder and managing partner of Peak Ventures.

“Friends and family willing to stick their necks out, that’s critical,” Burningham said. “It’s always good to have more capital.”

That initial boost can spell trouble for the future, though, if entrepreneurs aren’t smart about it, though, said Blake Modersitzki, managing partner at Pelion Venture Partners.

“Be careful how you put your deal together,” he said. “Make sure you do it the right way so you don’t mess up future rounds [of funding].”

Rob Reukert, managing director at Sorenson Capital, said as the Utah startup community grows, it will have to decide on an identity, and work to build infrastructure and a community around that.

“What does Utah want to be?” he said. “If Utah wants to rely on some funding from Utah and a lot of funding from the coast, that’s fine, but I don’t see Utah doing that.”

The world of funding—from access to private capital to going public—has changed radically in the last 20 years, said the panelists.

“It takes longer to get IPOs,” said Kent Madsen, managing director of Epic Ventures. “[For the highest potential in funding] you need to go public, you need access to the bigger checks, and it’s part of the structure.”

Panelists noted that companies like Qualtrics, which recently closed on a massive round of private funding, would likely have had to go public long ago to have access to the same amount of capital they can now secure privately. Panelists also discussed how the news of others’ success and the high IPOs netted by so-called startup unicorns has raised the bar for where entrepreneurs want to perform, and how some entrepreneurs mistakenly think going public means the end of the startup struggle.

“Entrepreneurs aren’t happy with modest IPOs—they want to be unicorns. When you can get private funding, it extends the runway [to take off as an IPO],” said Modersitzki. “An IPO is not an exit.”

Beyond those familial investments, Utah’s access to capital is slow-growing, though as more entrepreneurs find success in their startups, funding from in and out of state alike grows, said Burningham.

“We have an influx of talent we’ve never had. Secondly, you have entrepreneurs such as myself who build up a company and harvest profit, and put it into [future investments],” he said. “As we continue to have these harvests … I think you’ll see more capital being pumped back into the system. Talent and capital solve the problem.”