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St. George could become Utah’s next tech hub

November 3, 2021

A decade ago, it was almost unheard of for powerful coastal investment firms to put money into Utah companies. However, big bets on companies like Qualtrics, Domo, Pluralsight, Instructure, and others started to change that. Utah has now become a VC darling with a maturing ecosystem complete with angels, seed-stage, growth stage, and private equity investors, says Brad Plothow, VP of strategy at St. George aerospace startup Intergalactic.

However, these private capital benefits have not extended to Southern Utah, which is closer in proximity to Las Vegas than Lehi, Provo, or Salt Lake City. “[Southern Utah] is a place with an undiscovered trove of smart entrepreneurs, a savvy and industrious workforce, improving infrastructure, and a small but growing cluster of growing tech startups. Still, the venture capital community hasn’t really discovered it,” Plothow says.

Kyle Wells, dean of the College of Business at Dixie State University, agrees. He says that venture capital has been virtually nonexistent in Southern Utah. “There have been several deals, but the money is coming from VCs and angels outside the area. When VC capital is not available, growing companies are forced to move to other metro areas and money centers―not because they want to, but because the lack of funding and labor requires it. We’ve lost several businesses due to the lack of capital and labor.”

But Plothow and Wells agree that there’s potential for change. “Once growth investors become more familiar with what’s happening in Southern Utah, I have no doubt the capital will flow, growth timelines will accelerate, and the burgeoning Tech Ridge scene will explode,” Plothow says.

And that’s already starting to happen, thanks to local endeavors like the ones from Dixie State University. Because the school is working toward becoming the first and only open, inclusive, comprehensive polytechnic university in the entire nation, DSU President Richard B. Williams anticipates that Southern Utah will see exponential growth over the next 10-15 years.

“By offering an integrated curriculum that emphasizes internships, cooperative education, and hands-on training, the University is committed to preparing graduates for specific careers that satisfy the region’s workforce demands and collaborate with industry partners,” Williams says. As a result of their strategic efforts launched in 2014, Dixie State has added 111 academic programs, 81 percent of which are STEM-related.

Despite the new focus on STEM and other industry-needed jobs, Williams agrees with Plothow that finding the necessary capital can be difficult for all entrepreneurs, which is why Atwood Innovation Plaza at DSU created the Dixie Startup Incubator. The incubator provides resources to foster the growth of entrepreneurial startup companies and early-stage technology research.

Read the Full Utah Business Article here.