Seen as a prime networking opportunity for many business people and technology professionals, Salt Lake City’s annual Silicon Slopes Tech Summit hosted a record of 25,000 attendees in late January. Budding from just 5,000 attendees four years ago, this year’s lineup included Mark Zuckerberg, Gail Miller, owner of the Utah Jazz and Megaplex Theatres, Utah’s candidates for governor, JetBlue founder David Neeleman and others. Tickets were $195 but were provided for free by the Woodbury School of Business to those associated with UVU’s MBA program.
One of the main events was an entrepreneur funding competition — similar to Shark Tank — called the Startup World Cup. The event was hosted by Pegasus Tech Ventures and Kickstart Seed Fund. The winner of the SLC semifinals is given a chance to win $1 million at the final competition, a show that is attended by reps from large firms looking to network with (and possibly fund) runners-up.
Given four minutes to pitch their idea and two minutes to answer judges’ questions, ten candidates successively made their case for why they should be picked for the $1 million opportunity.
Among these were Layla Technologies, a device, and an app to simplify fertility monitoring. The presenter for Blerp claimed “there is no search platform for short sound bites” and offered a tech solution for this niche. The crowd cheered him on as he experienced stage fright and needed a boost.
Hallo, a live streaming community for language learning, would provide an opportunity for ESL learners to talk with native English speakers more easily. Savology would offer free financial plans in five minutes, submitting that “millennials need help with their finances,” but that’s it’s $2,500 to hire a conventional financial planner.
SignGlasses would provide organizations and the Deaf community with an easier way to communicate without the logistics and cost constraints of hiring interpreters. Axon Optics, another eyewear startup, would provide a lens for doctors to prescribe for those with migraines and light sensitivity.
Several other entrepreneurs took the stage to give their presentations and engage in dialogue with the judges. See the video to find out who the winner was.
At another presentation, David Neeleman, the founder of JetBlue, took the stage to talk about the firm’s success blending his Utah and Brazilian aviation roots and unveiled a new airline called Moxy. This company plans to do everything on a “superapp,” so consumers don’t have to talk with people in customer service. He billed it as “a technology company that happens to fly airplanes” and said it would fly people to cities that no other airline flies to. Neeleman also said that they would offer a unique package deal that combines home purchases and airfare credits.
Fintech firm MX presented a Q&A with one of its top people to a packed room, mainly discussing artificial intelligence. They described how, in terms of materials engineering, AI could manufacture a stronger product with less material in a few minutes compared to a highly paid, well-educated engineer. While discussing the company’s value to the average person’s bank account management to a picture of their shopping cart showing competing grocery prices, “we harmonize the world’s data to one, universal, highly usable data set,” the speaker said.
Another presentation given by Dave Durocher at OtherSide Academy, described a Salt Lake City halfway house that employs unique methods to transform convicts into better people in society. Dave explained how “the taxpayers don’t have to pay for their recovery” because the parolees work in the nonprofit’s moving company and thrift boutique, which funds their operations. “Our students learn how to work and how to stay employed,” he said.
Comparing the mugshots of prisoners to their modern-day transformation, Dave ended with his own mugshot, describing how he served many years in prison and now seeks to help others make the transition back to life on the other side.
Netflix was among the many booths stationed at the show, giving away beanies to those who could name a Netflix Original show. They were there to raise awareness about their Salt Lake City office, which employs 130 people. Many fintech, healthcare, and education booths were present, including UVU MBA. Lunch was provided as part of the ticket.
Prior to Mark Zuckerberg taking the stage, the summit’s underwriters (which included Ryan Smith of Qualtrics) spoke for some time about Silicon Slopes’ journey and their plans for its future. “This feels like Silicon Valley in 1996,” they said, as they unveiled the Silicon Slopes Venture Fund to help Utah entrepreneurs get the funding they couldn’t get in-state back when they were starting.
Costing $4 million a year from their finances as well as from sponsors, the Silicon Slopes Tech Summit is poised to become a solid platform for the future tech generation.
“The next Zuckerberg out here, call us.”Ryan Smith of Qualtrics
Austin Skousen is a communication student at Utah Valley University who enjoys Christopher Nolan films, motorcycling, philosophy, and political analysis.