Podcast: A Conversation With Clint Betts, Executive Director of Silicon Slopes

Pete CodellaBusiness Elevated Podcast


Business Elevated Podcast (Episode 15)

This podcast series features business and government leaders discussing what it’s like to live and work in the great state of Utah. This episode includes a conversation between Pete Codella, director of marketing and communications at GOED, and Clint Betts, the executive director of Silicon Slopes.

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Welcome to the Business Elevated Podcast, where we discuss what it’s like to live and work in the great state of Utah. Did you know Utah is frequently ranked the best state for business by Forbes? This podcast is a production of the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development. Thanks for joining the conversation.


Pete Codella (0:20): Welcome to the Business Elevated podcast. I am Pete Codella, the director of marketing and communications at GOED, and with me today we have Clint Betts, the executive director of Silicon Slopes. Clint, welcome.

Clint Betts (0:30): Thank you for having me. Wow!

Pete Codella (0:31): We’re glad that you’re here. You know, there’s been a lot of news lately about IT and tech in Utah. There was a report released in July about Utah’s tech economy from the Gardner Institute. Kind of want to talk about a few of those points, and have you help listeners understand more about IT in Utah and about Silicon Slopes.

Clint Betts (0:51): Perfect.

Pete Codella (0:51): So let’s start there. Why don’t you define Silicon Slopes for us?

Clint Betts (0:55): Well, Silicon Slopes is two things.

Pete Codella (0:57): Yep.

Clint Betts (0:58): It is, one, the term of the tech community in the state of Utah, right?

Pete Codella (1:04): The whole state of Utah.

Clint Betts (1:05): The whole state of Utah.

Pete Codella (1:06): Awesome.

Clint Betts (1:06): Silicon Slopes basically defines Utah’s tech community. It’s the term that we use.

Pete Codella (1:12): The brand.

Clint Betts (1:14): The brand of the community, right. And so for us, what that means is, Silicon Slopes extends from Logan to Saint George, everything in between. In fact, Silicon Slopes the organization, which is the second thing that Silicon Slopes is, is an actual organization. It’s a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. And the organization has chapters throughout the state of Utah in St. George, Logan, Ogden, Price, Salt Lake City…

Basically, anywhere where there are entrepreneurs and people building cool companies, there’s a chapter of Silicon Slopes within the state of Utah. And our mission as an organization is to empower the tech community to learn, connect and serve.

And what that means just briefly, is on the learn piece, we’re primarily a media company. We’re telling the story of what’s happening in this community, both within the state of Utah and to the rest of the world. We have a number of media properties where we do that. Publishing on our website every day. We have a newsletter, we have podcasts, we have a quarterly magazine, all these different media properties, just to tell the story of what’s happening within the state and to the rest of the world. On the connect side, we actually do over 200 events a year, which is kinda crazy.

Pete Codella (2:21): That’s a lot.

Clint Betts (2:23): It is a lot. And the biggest being Silicon Slopes Tech Summit, which happens in the second week of the Sundance Film Festival every year at Salt Palace. Last year it brought in over 25,000 people. We’ll see what it brings in, in its fourth year.

Pete Codella (2:35): Continues to grow, right?

Clint Betts (2:37): Continues to grow. And the other events are kind of up and down the Wasatch front, and all the way down to St. George. Kind of small, not as big as Silicon Slopes Tech Summit, but kind of small, medium, whatever size events throughout the year. And then, on the serve piece, it’s our job to rally the community to kind of and give back.

Pete Codella (2:58): Excellent.

Clint Betts (2:58): And we’ve done that through commitments to get computer science in every Utah school by 2022, we’ve done that by feeding a million kids, and packaging a million meals at Silicon Slopes Tech Summit. We’ve done that through book drives. We’ve done that through a lot of various initiatives.

Pete Codella (3:15): Very cool. So in the Gardner report, Utah’s Tech Economy, one of the findings that they announced was that technology companies in Utah support one in seven jobs, and one-sixth of worker earnings in the state. Just talk about why you think Utah is in a place where … I mean, really it’s unique in the country, and is growing so, so quickly.

Clint Betts (3:37): Yeah, it’s unique because we’re a small state, and we’re punching above our weight class in a major way. Right? If you look at 2018 for example, we had three tech companies go public. We had one get sold for $8 billion – Qualtrics.

Pete Codella (3:53): Just a little bit of money.

Clint Betts (3:56): And that’s a good year in Silicon Valley, kind of the Mecca of this whole thing. And so, for the fact that the state of Utah produced that is quite incredible. Now, why is that happening? I think, one, it’s not as understood to the rest of the world, the rich tech history that our state has, in this sector. If you look at the early ’90s, I think two of the Top 10-15 tech companies in the world were in Provo/Orem, Utah, in WordPerfect and Novell.

Pete Codella (4:26): Right.

Clint Betts (4:26): Right? I mean, the CEO of Novell left to be the CEO of Google, back then. I mean, that’s not an insignificant thing. And then, even if you look even further back, the rich history that the University of Utah has, being one of the four first stops to even get the internet, it is a big deal.

And so there’s this community and ecosystem that’s been built over the course of the past 20, 30, maybe even arguably 40 years, that has kind of helped build a foundation for what we’re seeing now.

Pete Codella (4:58): Of course. That makes perfect sense. And volume two of this report from the Gardner Institute is going to talk about that history.

Clint Betts (5:05): Yeah.

Pete Codella (5:05): And go back to the…

Clint Betts (5:06): I’m excited about that.

Pete Codella (5:07): WordPerfect and Novell, and all those.

Clint Betts (5:08): We need to tell that story more.

Pete Codella (5:10): Agreed. Yeah, and that’ll help enrich, I think, the brand, and the meaning of Silicon Slopes. So, talk to us about a trend that we’ve seen in the Governor’s Office Of Economic Development, that some companies will come here and open, kind of, a second headquarters. Why Utah? I mean, these companies are in large… you know, usually in California, New York, Boston. Talk about the workforce that we have here.

Clint Betts (5:35): It’s talent and its ecosystem, is the reason why this is happening, in my opinion. And I actually just met with a company, they’re called Thumbtack. You may have heard of Thumbtack, it’s a consumer tech company. They’re worth over $2 billion and they’re based out of Silicon Valley. I think they have about 400 employees in Silicon Valley. They have 350 employees in the state of Utah.

Pete Codella (5:59): Wow.

Clint Betts (6:00): Right? And Thumbtack is this incredible company that had no connection at all. No connection at all to the state of Utah. Looked across the country, where should we put our company, that would have the talent we need, the resources that we need, and the community that we need? And they landed on Utah.

And I really think it’s as simple as that. Once you’ve built an ecosystem that supports companies, that supports entrepreneurship, and more importantly for these companies that are already established and moving here, that supports the development of talent. You’ve got a recipe for something interesting.

Pete Codella (6:36): I think part of that ecosystem also speaks to Utah’s quality of life.

Clint Betts (6:40): For sure.

Pete Codella (6:40): Opportunities that we have, to live, work, and play in Utah. And I think that kind of appeal is as strong to workers in the IT industry, and others.

Clint Betts (6:52): Yeah, I travel around a lot, in visiting other startup ecosystems, right? And everyone will ask, “What’s going on? I’ve never been to Utah. What’s going on over there? We’re hearing about it all the time, it doesn’t make any sense. It’s not the Utah that we’ve been told about.”

Pete Codella (7:09): Not the stereotypical…

Clint Betts (7:10): Yeah, it’s not the stereotypical Utah. It doesn’t sound like that’s true. And then whenever those people come here, their whole impression of this state changes. Once you get people off a plane, and they see what Utah looks like and feels like, and just the beauty of these mountains and everything that we’re surrounded by, it’s a game-changer. And they never want to leave.

Pete Codella (7:33): Agreed. So you brought this up already, computer science in public schools in Utah. Talk a little about that initiative, and how it helps the future of IT in Utah.

Clint Betts (7:42): Yeah, well out of the governor’s office, the Talent Ready Utah Board recently put forward and passed the Computer Science Master Plan, which will help us achieve this goal. And so one, thank you for that. The support of the governor’s office on this issue, and the Legislature, has been unbelievable on this.

We think it’s critical to prepare the next generation of the workforce for sure, but really just the critical thinking skills that students get out of that. Not everybody’s going to be a coder, and nor do we expect. I’m not a coder, nor do we expect everyone to be a coder, but kind of that foundational skill, we think, is important. The critical thinking that comes from learning that skill is super important, and the opportunity, right? Our mission as an organization is to extend access to opportunity to everyone, not just the few.

And that means rural Utah. That means northern Utah. That means southern Utah. That means, between Provo and Salt Lake City, too. But extending access to opportunity to everyone, and extending access to opportunity to everything that’s happening in Silicon Slopes is important to us. If you think about what’s happening here, right now, and the class divide that we’re in danger of seeing, because of the massive growth, right? These successes that I talked about, that happened in 2018, you could also look at 2014, some of these big exits, things like that. That success hasn’t been evenly distributed. Nor should it be. But it hasn’t been, that hasn’t been a successful thing for everyone in the state of Utah, right? And there is this perception, and some of it’s a reality, that it’s difficult to get into this community.

It’s difficult to, one start a company, but it’s difficult, depending on who you are, what you look like, and what your gender is, to get a job in this community, right? We’ve got to break all of that down, and extend the access to the opportunity to everyone. And that includes geography, right?

Pete Codella (9:39): That’s right.

Clint Betts (9:39): If we go an hour south from where we are right now, we’re in the Silicon Slopes headquarters. And if we go an hour south from where we are right now, it’s a totally different experience for the people living in Price, Utah or Carbon County, or wherever, than where we are. Right? And how do you extend the access to opportunity to them? And we think one way to do that is getting computer science in every Utah school as soon as possible, and we think the soonest that can happen is 2022.

Pete Codella (10:04): And I’ve heard you share that, rural Utah, the best approach there is to encourage entrepreneurs in that area to create tech companies.

Clint Betts (10:14): Yeah.

Pete Codella (10:14): Not so much that a tech company is going to say, “Hey, I’m going to go to Price, or wherever.” Right?

Clint Betts (10:20): Yeah. It’s interesting. We spend a lot of time down there, and I’m actually going down there for some rural summit that I believe Rep. Curtis is doing here in a few weeks. And every time I go down to a Helper, or a Price or anywhere in rural Utah, the questions always like, “How do we get one of these companies that are up in Lehi or in Salt Lake City, to open up a satellite office down here?”

I’m like, well, I don’t know. I actually don’t know how you do that. Let’s encourage them, let’s make connections if they want to do that, that’s great. I would never discourage that from happening. If that makes business sense for this company and it helps these communities, let’s for sure do that, right? The problem with that is, that’s a short-term solution. If there’s a downturn in the economy, if something changes, or pivots need to be made within the company…

Pete Codella (11:12): That office could go away.

Clint Betts (11:16): First office that’s gone is that office. Right? Much more interesting for those communities, and much more interesting for the state of Utah is how do we foster entrepreneurship in those areas? So you have entrepreneurs who are committed to those areas, building companies in those areas, and willing to grow it from within.

Pete Codella (11:30): And we see that in the outdoor rec space in Utah. But that’s my next question for you, what advice do you have for entrepreneurs who might be listening to the podcast?

Clint Betts (11:38): I think, particularly in the areas we’re talking about, tell your story. There’s more of you than you think.

Pete Codella (11:44): Great.

Clint Betts (11:44): Stories are at the heart of any community, this whole organization and again, this whole movement we’ve seen over the past six, seven years, that is Silicon Slope started with stories at its core, and it’s remained so. So tell your story. Is not … That may sound like a very simple thing and like, oh, that’s not how this is all going to work. But it’s super helpful. So one is tell your stories.

And two, I think on the role that we’ll play as a community and as an organization, is to surround these folks with mentorship and support in a community of best practices. Here’s the pitfalls to avoid. Here’s what we’ve learned over the past 40 years. Here’s all the entrepreneurs that have been successful. Learn from them creating events, creating all these various things to help them out. But so that, that would be from a community perspective, that’s what I’d say. From a very individual perspective is, just get going. It’s just start.

Pete Codella (12:42): Do it. Right?

Clint Betts (12:42): Too often, I see entrepreneurs, “Well, if this, this and this happens, then I’ll start my company.” It’s like, nah, you’re probably not going to start a company.

Pete Codella (12:51): Sure, yeah.

Clint Betts (12:52): At some point, you’ve just got to go, and don’t worry about failure as much as the experience of building this thing, and you’ll probably be alright.

Pete Codella (13:03): Many successful people have had more failures than successes.

Clint Betts (13:06): That’s right. That’s right. Don’t let failure be the goal, and I also don’t like … Sometimes that goes too far, where it’s like, oh, just go ahead and fail. Who cares? But don’t be afraid of failure.

Pete Codella (13:16): So it’s interesting you bring up storytelling. You know, I’ve done communications and public relations in the private sector for higher education, and now working for Gov. Herbert in the economic development office. Your degree is in journalism, right?

Clint Betts (13:31): Right.

Pete Codella (13:32): How did that prepare you to be a good storyteller? Do you think it did?

Clint Betts (13:35): I think it did.

Pete Codella (13:37): I would say so.

Clint Betts (13:38): But I only went to school to learn how to write. That was very important to me. I don’t know why, but in my mind, I was like, “The only thing I want to get out of school is the ability to write. I think that’ll be important for me down the road.”

Pete Codella (13:52): And that’s the skill that I look for in people that I hire, for sure.

Clint Betts (13:56): Being able to communicate has been… And in particular in the written form, because I don’t know that I’m that good in any other way. But, being able to write, being able to communicate, that skill is so underrated.

Pete Codella (14:11): Yeah.

Clint Betts (14:11): And again, tech community is not just coders. That’s another kind of misperception, that the tech community is just software engineers in a basement, dark room, eating pizza and staying up till 3:00 a.m. hacking on stuff.

Pete Codella (14:24): You need the whole team.

Clint Betts (14:25): That exists, but you also need great marketers, great communicators, great salespeople, great account executives. What makes up a company is not just that. You know what I mean? And so, and then that’s another thing I think that we have to do as a community and as an organization, in terms of education and awareness, is tell that story. That it’s not just, I mean obviously we want as many software engineers, let’s not kid ourselves.

Pete Codella (14:51): Sure, yeah.

Clint Betts (14:52): But it’s not just that skill that we’re looking for, and that’s not the only way to gain access to this community.

Pete Codella (14:59): So last question, what’s the future of Silicon Slopes? What’s coming up next year? Maybe what’s further down the road?

Clint Betts (15:04): Well, immediately is Silicon Slopes Tech Summit 2020, that happens January 30th and 31st.

Pete Codella (15:11): Just a few months away.

Clint Betts (15:12): Just a few months. It feels like it’s tomorrow for us, to be honest with you. So that’s kind of what we’re heads-down on and focused on. Long-term, we recently kind of joined forces with Utah Technology Council, and you may see us play a little bit more of a role, and have a little bit more of a voice on the public policy front, and we’re still figuring out what that means for us. Historically, we’ve just been like, “Build companies, don’t even worry about what happens up there.” We’ve now realized, hey, we probably have to worry a little bit.

Pete Codella (15:42): Again, it takes a team.

Clint Betts (15:43): Yeah. And start to figure that out. And so we just want to keep building great companies in the state of Utah, and we just want to keep creating a culture and an ecosystem that allows that to happen.

Pete Codella (15:57): That’s great. Anything else you’d like to share?

Clint Betts (15:59): No, thanks for, it’s an honor to be on the show, man. Thanks for asking me.

Pete Codella (16:04): Business Elevated Podcast, thank you to Clint Betts, and we appreciate all the work of Silicon Slopes throughout the state, and helping kind of raise and elevate the brand of Utah. So thank you, Clint.

Clint Betts (16:14): Thank you, appreciate it.


Thanks for listening to the Business Elevated podcast, a production of the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development. Listen to other episodes where you get your podcasts or at business.utah.gov.