It may not be apparent to people who aren’t in the industry, but Utah has a burgeoning tech community with everything from old giants like Novell and Adobe to startups trying to bootstrap a mobile app to mainstream success. StartSLC, Utah’s largest grassroots startup festival, was organized in an attempt to bolster this community and get the often sequestered software programmers and entrepreneurs away from their computers and shaking hands.
The multiple day event kicked off on the night of the 29th with a party at Church and State featuring live entertainment including aerial arts, dance performances and music. Literally a repurposed 121-year-old church with large stained glass windows and vaulted ceilings, the Church and State building has an air of old Salt Lake, which was ironic considering that the technorati in attendance tend to have a primary concern of newer-faster-better everything. Disruption is the name of the game. Many people were in attendance, and the phrase “What do you do?” was likely said hundreds of times as everyone compared geek cred and talked shop. A deluge of business cards made their way into pockets or into trash bins. The event served as a lighthearted general start to the more purpose-specific events to follow. Meanwhile, across town at The Gateway, a hackathon started up that would last until the end of the festival.
The event was hosted by Beehive Startups, Grow Utah, and Zions Bank. We asked Clint Betts of Beehive Startups what they hoped to accomplish with the event. “The whole idea of startSLC is doing an event where the entire startup community could get involved,” he says. “We wanted to get the hackers, the designers, the videographers, bloggers, as well as the entrepreneurs and CEOs.” Gabe Gunderson, also of Beehive Startups, feels that the event is only the beginning. “It’s about the real things we are doing on the ground—educating entrepreneurs, helping them get savvy about what it means to create a high-tech business. Its about getting females less wary of taking that first programming class so that there is a bit more diversity.”
The morning of the 30th the festival kicked into full swing. Attendees had no shortage of choices for speakers, workshops and panels as many were occurring simultaneously—making it impossible to attend everything that was offered. Betts said that there were 66 events being offered within the 2 1/2 day festival. The advantage to this is that attendance could be curated according to individual interest. Choices offered included an iOS mini bootcamp, Bitcoin panel, SLC Angels pitch competition, and speeches by various CEOs. Most events were held at The Gateway, which was a welcome change from the hotel conference rooms in which these types of events are often held.
The evening of the 30th there was a “Coworking Crawl.” Instead of merry-makers hitting a succession of bars, getting drunk as they go, attendees in a coworking crawl visit a few of the coworking spaces available in SLC (getting drunk as they go). Coworking is a relatively new concept already popular in other parts of the country and is picking up steam in Utah. The concept is having a collaborative work environment available to workers who might otherwise be isolated in a home office—or a small team who doesn’t necessarily want to pay rent on a permanent space. It is an excellent alternative to working at a coffee shop where the communal soundtrack can inexplicably change to Smash Mouth at any time and eliminate any chance for productivity. The group visited Sustainable Startups, Church and State, Impact Hub‘s new but currently under construction location, as well as The Holodeck. The latter has a kind of Facebook office feel, with glass, colorful couches and a foosball table.
Across town at the grand ballroom at The Gateway, there was a panel on “The Shifting Media Landscape” which included, among others, Spencer Hall from KSL and SLUG’s own supreme leader Angela Brown. Hall offered insight into our unique market here in Salt Lake, offering up the interesting fact that KSL’s classifieds actually outperform Craigslist in Utah, and this is the only market where CL isn’t top of the heap. Brown talked about the difference between SLUG’s print zine and the website, explaining how more time sensitive things are relegated to web only due to the long process of going to press and distributing print mags.
On the 31st there was a $250k pitch competition, where eager entrepreneurs had a few minutes to convince the crowd and a panel of judges why they have the right stuff to create the next big thing. Pitches ranged from a Tinder alternative called Tether to a cheaper action cam (think GoPro) called ViDi headed up by locals Tanner Yaro and Spencer Taylor, who ended up taking home both audience and judge’s choice awards in the form of two gigantic checks, bestowing upon them investment money to reach their small company’s goals. Pluralsight CEO Aaron Skonnard had a great night, receiving CEO of the year as well as Utah Startup of the year—all after delivering the final keynote address. The festival was impressive, proving that Utah’s affectionate moniker of “Silicon Slopes” is well deserved.
See more photos from the event here.