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Utah startups raised a ton of money last year. Here's where it went.

Utah Business

Utah startups raised a ton of money last year. Here's where it went.

Utah startups raised $1 billion in VC funding in 2020

In 2020, Utah saw over 133 VC deals securing nearly $1 billion in funding and that was just the beginning. In the first quarter of 2021 alone, Utah firms nearly matched last year’s numbers by reaching $956 million in VC funding. Across the US, the start-up economy has been steadily growing and prospects for an economic surge thanks to VC funding are high. 

According to John Mayfield, partner at Album VC, “Utah entrepreneurs have proven time and again that great companies are built here. The environment that we are now experiencing was decades in the making and wasn’t an accident. Software investors from all corners now view Utah as a top place to invest. I also think it takes good capital options at every stage of a start-up’s life to be fully healthy, Utah now has that.” 

If Q1 is any indication, Utah startups are on track to have quite the year. 

Since 2017, regular double-digit growth in VC funding has been posted each year, according to Newmark Western Region Research Insights. VC funding plays an essential role in new technology entrepreneurship and innovation. Funding toward new emerging technologies in blockchain, the internet of things (loT), and artificial intelligence (AI), amplified by the ability to now connect globally, could be the driving forces to propel our economy forward in years to come. 

Current research from PitchBook, a capital markets research firm, shows VC funding in the United States reached a staggering $90 billion in 2020; almost a triple increase from 2019, where VC funding was recorded at $32.8 billion. Of the 133 emerging industries tracked by Pitchbook, 34 have raised over $1 billion since 2019. And the momentum doesn’t seem to be slowing down.

In the first quarter of 2021, VC funding in the United States reached $61.8 billion―putting Utah on a strong trajectory for 2021 and beyond. To date, 2021 has seen more VC funding than last year in areas such as technology, media, and telecom (TMT), software as a service (SaaS), financial technology (FinTech), and healthtech, among others.

Regular funding increases in new tech industries are seen across the board with the West Coast and tech hubs markets (Bay Area, Boston, DC, New York, San Diego, and Seattle) garnering the most VC funding in the country. Additional hotspots are continuing to emerge; including here in Utah. 

Curt Roberts, partner at Kickstart Fund says “pretty much every venture-fundable business and sector is getting access to capital. We’re not seeing trends that appear to favor one sector over others, but B2B SaaS is very strong, as it always is in Utah.” 

According to Pitchbook, Utah investments are as follows:

Information Technologies: 

$847 million Q1, $552 million in 2020

Business-to-Consumer:  

$74 million in Q1, $130 million in 2020 

Business-to-Business: 

$14 million in Q1, $83 million in 2020

Financial Services and Fintech: 

$15 million in Q1, $35 million in 2020 

Energy: 

Had no new deals in Q1, but had $10 million in 2020

Will 2021 see the same strong VC investing through the rest of the year? Local VC investors predict yes. “We’re not really seeing any signs that things are slowing down. A lot of funds have raised money, including a number of first-time managers. Those funds will have a schedule over which they are expected to put the money to work, so I think we’ll continue to see an abundance of financing options for great companies,” says Roberts. 

Mayfield agrees. “The Q1 momentum was the result of some pent-up demand from last summer I believe. I also think entrepreneurs that had unique tailwinds that were Covid-related took advantage of their increase in success and decided to add capital while capital markets are strong. Hard to say if the second half of 2021 will be as strong as the first half but I’m bullish on the pipeline of all of the great emerging companies that have yet to raise big rounds of funding.”

More than half of VC funding in Utah is going to small companies (who will most likely hire more employees and expand) but Western Region Insights speculates that there’s been a decent setback in real estate purchases and expansion due to the pandemic and work restrictions. 

While many Utah companies are eager to return to the office, flexible work options will most likely remain in place. At this time, it seems hard to say how local commercial real estate will be affected by hybrid work models. However, Utah certainly has the capacity for commercial expansion which is a plus. 

Various effects of the pandemic going forward are still unknown, but it’s safe to say Utah has prospered from the pandemic in many ways. “The Utah tech scene was benefited by the mass exodus from major cities to smaller states where very good talent moved here, liked it, and many will stay or at least come back and do business here,” says Mayfield. The talent and capital are here, and all signs point to a strong future for Utah startups.  

Elizabeth Weldon is a former Ballet West dancer and current contributing editor for A Ballet Magazine.

Comments (3)

  • Rick Mandahl

    Great update Elizabeth! Great progress report. And congrats on success beyond your artistry with Ballet West. UB readers, let’s remember, Ballet West was once a start up. Ditto Utah Opera and Utah Symphony. As the Utah economy rebounds past the pandemic recession, with our entrepreneurs forging ahead, let’s remember Arts contribution to technological prowess, business success, and overall quality of life in our state.

    reply
  • Jon Hansen

    Very impressive that so much money was raised last year. That is a hopeful message. Thank you Ms. Weldon for the excellent report and information.

    reply
  • Lisa Simpkins

    It would be interesting to know, of the investors/VC/PE/Angle in Utah, how many have invested in a women-owned business? The last time I checked PitchBook, Utah had zero for the past 5-10 years. I would love to know the numbers. From my experience, I think Utah has great startups but is very lacking in diversity and equality when it comes to funding Women-owned startups. It’s a shame we have to look for investment partners outside of Utah, with such robust innovation.

    reply

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