Awesome Towns for Entrepreneurs: A Spotlight on Provo, Utah

You know you’re in for a good time when you’re heading for Happy Valley, the area that surrounds Provo, Utah (UT). Even better, the Beehive State’s second-largest metro area has made a good showing on a variety of national “Top/Most Happy Community” lists over the years for quality of life factors; residents and visitors report that there are plenty of enjoyable things to see and do in Provo, in addition to the amazing scenery, educated workforce, low crime, and general satisfaction of community members.

The state of Utah receives regular props for similar positive characteristics, including ranking close to the top of USA Today’s 2018 list of “Best States for Happiness.” This particular list ranked physical, mental, economic, and spiritual pros and cons of every state.

Today, the Garden City is a dynamic and exciting community. Provo has a population of about 115,000 within its city limits, and 520,000 in the greater Provo-Orem metro area. It’s the third-largest city in the state, just under Salt Lake City and West Valley City.

The area is also home to Brigham Young University, which attracts students from around the world and has plenty of support from NCAA football fans. Provo serves as a training area for young people heading into the world as missionaries for the Mormon Church as well. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) is the dominant faith in these parts, with which about 75 percent of residents are affiliated. This means that you’re more likely to see ice cream stands in Provo than bars, vape lounges, or coffee shops.

The combination of desert and mountain climates presents all sorts of opportunities to enjoy the area all year long and there’s no end to the recreational opportunities in Provo, from hiking to snowboarding. The area hosted some events during the Salt Lake Winter Olympics in 2002, so there are even more snowy, recreational outdoor options.

In addition to Provo being a downright happy, family-friendly place to live and play, it also has a variety of business opportunities. Provo is the home-base for a variety of national and international companies, everything from Ancestry.com to the security company Vivint.

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS, 2019) reveals that the area doesn’t have the highest wages in the country, but can fairly be called “competitive” with a mean hourly wage of $22.89 for all occupations, down slightly from the national mean of $24.98. Of special note is that “computer and mathematical” occupations are in high demand and can command high salaries with a mean wage of $41.31 in Provo.

Continue reading to learn more about what areas make Provo appealing to those interested in business opportunities.

Fast facts: Welcome to Provo, UT

Global cuisine. The Provo restaurant scene is legendary. This is partly credited to the global student body and faculty, including heavy Polynesian influences from BYU’s sister campus in Hawaii. The emphasis on missions doesn’t hurt either: when people return from spreading the word abroad, they often bring back favorite treats or favorite recipes that are incorporated into local menus. So it’s not uncommon to see “fusion” spots with delicacies from many cultures.

Cheers! Yes, you can find something to drink around here. Although LDS members and BYU students are encouraged to abstain from spirits and the state officially “does not promote or encourage the sale or use of alcohol,” merchants are happy to take the money from adults who want to imbibe. But there are some legal restrictions, including lower quantities of alcohol content in beer or sales of only one glass or a bottle at a time in some locations. Restaurants also require that people buy food with their alcohol purchases.

LGBT-friendly. Though the LDS church’s view on homosexuality is complicated due to sometimes conflicting, still-evolving policies, personalities, and politics, Provo has a reputation as a community that’s relatively welcoming to all types of lifestyles. While “somewhat friendly” isn’t necessarily a glowing endorsement, progress is being made. For instance, community members have held a Provo Pride Festival with few problems for several years and city officials like to portray the region as welcoming, diverse, and inclusive.

Hollywood calling. The Provo area gets a lot of traffic each January, but folks are not necessarily coming to check out the cool dinosaur fossils at the BYU Museum of Paleontology (although they are worth seeing!). The elite of the moviemaking industry visit the Sundance Resort for the annual film festival launched by Robert Redford to spotlight independent films, often with a Western flair. The two worlds and cultures sometimes stay separate, but do find ways to co-exist: Utahans can buy tickets before the public, and since 2011, Provo has been hosting the Utah Film Festival—its own celebration that includes premieres of in-state independent movies. Organizers also encourage Sundance deal-makers to consider using Utah locations and talent for future films.

Five Businesses to Watch in Provo, UT

Sodalicious – Sodalicious makes customized flavors of carbonated treats using either flavored syrups or existing soft drinks as the base. Customers can get a cool, colorful and unique treat every time they come in.

  • The owners: Kevin and Annie Auernig
  • The story: Annie was the head costume designer for the church’s Bible videos and had a reputation of mixing great drinks with silly names. After seeing the demand and hearing suggestions from friends, the couple launched a small drink booth at the Provo Public Library in 2013. Business took off, and there are now three Provo locations, nine other Utah locations, plus four stores in southeast Idaho and four more in northern Arizona.

Fudi – Restaurants are told to cultivate influencers in their communities in hopes they’ll provide positive reviews and encourage their followers to check out the place. But how do restaurants and influencers connect? This app has an answer for it: a business can use it to send a note to the influencer, invite them to come dine, and offer to pick up their tab. If all goes well, the influencer will enjoy themselves and the owner will get a boost in popularity.

  • The owners: Zach Holub and Cees Hofman
  • The story: Zach, a self-described medical school drop-out from Provo, is now a tech entrepreneur and digital marketer. Sophie Holub, Zach’s partner, has a design background. In January, they launched this app that they hope will change how restaurants market themselves by focusing on the simple transaction of a free meal in exchange for free publicity and social media exposure.

HaLLo – One of the challenges of learning a foreign language is not being able to practice often enough with others, especially outside of the classroom setting. This social app aims to change that by helping connect people learning English to people who already speak it well, and invite them to converse via live stream/real-time video chatting. The basic conversation service is free with a language partner or native speaker, but future upgrades will allow people to buy extended lessons from the more skilled speakers. It allows people to practice and grow their English language skills and matches people based on skill level. Users can also chat with specific friends if they have the app, and participants receive lists of possible topics to get their conversation started.

  • The owners: Co-founders Benjamin Dent (COO) and Joon Beh (CEO)
  • The story: HaLLo was launched in early 2019. Beh has a computer background and previously was a consultant for Deloitte. Dent also has a programming background and previously worked for Work Day and Find.com. He also was a Spanish volunteer representative for the LDS Church. The app idea has received several commendations from various award/business pitch competitions.

My Dental Rep – This service provides automated support for the ordering process at dental offices. Clients can find lower prices, combine orders, and keep track of items that are needed the most often. This helps participating offices always have what supplies they need and never run low. Outsourcing the ordering allows the dentist and office staff to focus on other tasks and patient needs rather than on constantly ordering or negotiating with suppliers. Clients can also call and talk to a knowledgeable ordering assistant about the available products.

  • Founders: Scott Thomas, Dr. Adrian Huang, and Jared Rossean
  • The story: Huang, also known as Dr. H, was a practicing dentist in Provo for 20 years. He was tired of the high cost of supplies and the existing dental product companies cornering the market. So he teamed up with “some technology guys” to find ways to save himself and other dentists money, reduce the staff’s workload, and have a better bottom line.

Entrepreneurial Resources in Provo, UT

Part of LDS history includes an emphasis on the values of working hard, taking risks, and helping others. That’s why many start-up businesses here are able to find a high amount of encouragement and support, whether it’s securing loans, finding focus groups for a proof of concept, or tapping expertise from BYU. Some of these include:

  1. Rollins Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology – One division of BYU’s Marriott School of Business is dedicated to encouraging and assisting students to become successful and grow new businesses. This focus includes a variety of classes, major and minor programs, guest lectures, mentorship arrangements, collaborations or competitions. For instance, students were recently asked to figure out new ways to reduce plastic waste in the environment, and there was also a recent program that offered financial opportunities for female students to seek careers in the sciences.
  2. RevRoad – The Provo-based venture service firms focuses on providing expertise for start-ups in return for a certain amount of equity, or as the accelerator describes it, “you bring the secret sauce, we bring the speed and expertise.” This support can take place up to two years, which is a critical time for a new business. This support includes offering a $10,000 prize each year for the best idea that begins with a pitch and succeeds from there, even to the point of a stock offering. The business accelerator began in 2017 when a group of private investors wanted to encourage and support other creative ventures.
  3. Utah Valley Chamber of Commerce – There is a Provo Chamber, but the Utah Valley one has a larger focus over a greater area. The Utah Valley Chamber of Commerce focuses on bringing in new businesses and supporting them, including regular seminars and networking events.
  4. 1 Million Cups – Provo is part of a national networking and support program. Each week, local business leaders (and prospective entrepreneurs) get together for coffee and exchange ideas. The venture began in 2012, and there are now about 180 communities in 40 states that participate. After each presentation, guests discuss and offer resources for the speaker to further flesh out their idea or find community connections. Although the focus is peer networking, it does receive support from the city.
  5. The Startup Building – Although shared workspaces/micro-offices seem like a new entrepreneurial concept, this particular one actually dates back to 1898, when a family with the actual last name of Startup launched the country’s first candy bar and commercial ice cream out of a Provo building. Today, the former candy factory is now available as a community hub for startups. It also includes DevMountain, a high-tech coding academy. Tenants can access co-working or private office space along with event space. They can also participate in group activities and seminars that encourage networking and mutual support.
Joe Butler
Joe Butler
Writer

Joe Butler is an accomplished writer and editor in the Northwest with more than 20 years of experience publishing in newspapers, magazines, and specialty websites. He graduated from Central Washington University with a degree in mass communications and has worked with a variety of clients nationwide. Joe lives near Spokane, WA, where he writes, reads, and collects spoons as well as the cheapest, plastic snow-globes he can find.

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