Today at the Silicon Slopes Tech Summit, attended by more than 25,000 people in just its fourth year, The Silicon Slopes Venture Fund was launched as a way to better support Utah's technology entrepreneurs.
It will also provide a way to ensure additional long-term funding for Silicon Slopes, the non-profit organization that serves Utah's booming tech community. The Silicon Slopes Venture Fund was created by Qualtrics co-founder and CEO Ryan Smith, Omniture co-founder and Domo founder and CEO Josh James and Pelion Venture Partners General Partner Jeff Kearl.
"As leaders who have each found success building businesses in Utah, we're always looking for ways to make the community stronger and give back, particularly to the next generation of technology entrepreneurs," said Josh James. "We often spend time meeting with different founders, sharing our mistakes and observations. Sometimes we invest. Partnering with Pelion, where Jeff is a full-time investor, allows me to stay focused on Domo, Ryan to stay focused on Qualtrics, and at the same time continue to invest in startups that deserve both expertise and capital."
The business model of the Silicon Slopes Venture Fund takes an unprecedented approach to collaboratively building up a tech ecosystem in a specific region. Most firms keep a percentage of the fund's total amount to cover operating expenses, including salaries. In this case, the group will donate most fees to support the ongoing operation of the non-profit tech organization, Silicon Slopes. Pelion Venture Partners is providing the fund's operational support and managing the fund alongside Jeff, Josh and Ryan. The Silicon Slopes Venture Fund will work in collaboration with other Utah founders and investors to accelerate the most promising companies in Utah's tech community. A core component of the fund is driving diversity in Utah's tech ecosystem by ensuring the fund encourages a diverse set of entrepreneurs including female and minority run businesses.
Jeff Kearl remarked, "With this initiative, we're formalizing the investments that we've been doing together as angel investors for many years. Each of us flew to Sand Hill Road when we raised venture capital for our businesses. As a result, we were able to observe first-hand how legendary funds like Accel, Benchmark, and Sequoia operated when they invested our companies. Now with Pelion and the Silicon Slopes Venture Capital fund, we have the chance to build the fund in Utah that we wish existed when we were fundraising."
Ryan Smith remarked, "With more than 7,000 tech-focused companies in Utah, the tech community has never been more promising here. The model of this fund allows us to give back to the community in a meaningful way, keep complete focus on continuing to build our own companies, and ensure that the Silicon Slopes organization is supported for years to come. We have seen the power of what happens when we all come together to do something--just look at the Silicon Slopes Tech Summit. With approximately 85% of the venture capital dollars going into Utah startups coming from out-of-state venture funds, we knew there was an opportunity for us to get more involved. I'm all in on Utah and I know the others are as well."
James, Kearl and Smith, all who attended BYU, found success starting and leading brands that dominate their respective markets. James, in 1996, co-founded and led web analytics powerhouse Omniture, took it public in 2006, and then sold it three years later to Adobe for $1.8 billion. Omniture was Kearl's first of many angel investments. Kearl later co-founded Stance, the lifestyle apparel brand, where he previously served as CEO. He joined Pelion as a General Partner in 2019 to focus on investing full-time. Smith, in 2002, co-founded Qualtrics, where he continues as CEO. Qualtrics was sold to SAP in 2019 in an $8 billion deal, the largest private enterprise software acquisition in global tech history.
James, Kearl, Smith, and Pelion have a history of investing in startups. Their investments include prominent Utah companies such as Divvy, Galileo, Lucid, MX and Weave as well as out-of-state companies such as Coupa, Celonis, Cloudflare, Front, Scopely, Riverbed and Uber.
The Silicon Slopes Venture Capital fund is being previewed at the Silicon Slopes Tech Summit, January 30-31, in Salt Lake City.