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Startup Scene: Provo, Utah

Nathan Kurtz

nathan_kurtz1 Million Cups launched in Provo, Utah at the end of January, just the latest program added to a vibrant and well-connected community. Provo has a rich technology history, outstanding education and a bright and supportive entrepreneurial future. This mountain city of 120,000 residents in the Utah Valley lives its vision of creating jobs and building a culture of growth through four distinct areas.

Connectivity. Provo is the newest Google Fiber city, with gig-speed Internet access for a fraction of the cost of most other cities. The city installed a fiber network years ago, and Google is now using this existing infrastructure to connect its residents for just $30, literally 10 percent of the fee that is charged in other Google Fiber cities such as Kansas City. The city has also worked with Google to connect some co-working spaces with gig-speed access, enabling startups to harness gig-speed service from their office and not just at home.

Civic Support.  The city government, led by Mayor John Curtis and economic development champion Dixon Holmes, has made entrepreneurship a priority for the city.  Most impressively though, the city government is actively involved in opening doors for entrepreneurs and facilitating connections between established entrepreneurs and startup founders.   The city officials actively look to make valuable sales, marketing and mentoring connections between entrepreneurs and business owners at different stages of growth.  And they are good at making these connections.

Education. Provo is also home to Brigham Young University.  Scott Petersen, the BYU entrepreneurship department chair, recognized the isolation of the entrepreneurship school from the rest of the campus when he came back to his alma mater to run the program in 2010.  He garnered the engagement of not only his professors - the vast majority of which are successful entrepreneurs themselves – he also collaborated with the deans of the other colleges on campus, integrating entrepreneurship into the business, engineering, missions and mathematics colleges as well.  The entrepreneurship professors completely revamped the curriculum, most notably changing their focus from business plans to business models.  They turned from an academic-first teaching curriculum to a practical, hands-on customer engagement and product-market fit pursuit.  BYU championships at the national business model competitions among other top national universities speak for themselves.   

Mentoring. In addition to the city’s mentoring work, BYU also renewed alumni mentoring activity across town and across the world.  Pulling together an interested but less-engaged group of business leaders, the BYU Entrepreneurship department brought in subject matter experts in marketing, sales, finance, operations, production, logistics, etc. to be mentors to the student venture groups on campus.  By beginning each school year with “Pain Workshops,” students learn that the first step is not spit-balling a great idea, but simply finding out what migraine-size problems people have, and creating innovative solutions for them.  Combined with the academic and business leader mentoring, these students have a tremendous advantage.

Provo has a lot going for a smaller-market town.  This integrated entrepreneurial community has the tools and leadership for outpaced growth and success.  Keep an eye out for additional innovations coming from this quieter part of The Rockies.  

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