Boise tech community gains an ally for startups

The Wayne Brown Institute, a Utah nonprofit, has been a boon to the Salt Lake City area. December 16, 2014

Todd McElroy, GenZ Technology foreman, tests a prototype of the company’s crop sprayer at Skyline Vineyards in Nampa this summer. McElroy was trying to put together the final pieces of his first round of funding the sprayer when the Wayne Brown Institute appeared serendipitously on the scene. PROVIDED BY GENZ Read more here:

Todd McElroy, GenZ Technology foreman, tests a prototype of the company’s crop sprayer at Skyline Vineyards in Nampa this summer. McElroy was trying to put together the final pieces of his first round of funding the sprayer when the Wayne Brown Institute appeared serendipitously on the scene.

GenZ Technology CEO Grant Thompson spent two years raising $1.6 million in startup money. That usually meant traveling from the Treasure Valley to California.

His company, which aims to make crop sprayers that operate more efficiently than the industry standard, had already raised some money from the two local angel-investor groups, the Boise Angel Alliance and the Capitol City Angel Fund. But the company needed more.

In November, Thompson found himself back in Boise, pitching to a room of about 40 investors in the new Eighth & Main building. Several of them may chip in on the final $400,000 he seeks to complete GenZ’s first round of funding and to ramp up production.

The event was organized by the Wayne Brown Institute, a nonprofit in West Jordan, Utah, that works to connect startups with investors. It was the institute’s first event since it announced in September that it would expand its Utah-based programs, which include entrepreneur mentorship programs, to the Boise area.

“You can get started with what Idaho has to offer, but it’s hard to do much, especially in technology or manufacturing, because there just aren’t enough funding sources,” Thompson said. “The ones we have are great, but aren’t enough. That’s why an organization like Wayne Brown coming to town is wonderful.”

Growth of the Boise tech sector isn’t limited by a lack of smart entrepreneurs, said Rick Ritter, who coaches and oversees tech startups at the Boise tech incubator, The WaterCooler.

The missing ingredient, Ritter said, is investor cash. The Treasure Valley’s two angel groups lack sufficient membership, cash and interests to support a robust startup community, he said.

“What we have in the Boise Valley is pretty limiting for most early stage startups,” Ritter said.

The Wayne Brown Institute says it has helped more than 850 startups raise more than $8.5 billion in investments since its creation in 1983. More than 70 percent of companies that participate in Wayne Brown programs receive funding, and more than 80 percent remain in business after a decade, spokeswoman Jennifer Meyer said.


That’s good news for the local startup scene, said Kevin Learned, a member of the Boise Angel Alliance and director of the Venture College at Boise State University.

Though the institute doesn’t invest money itself – the group operates as a nonprofit – its track record of linking investors with successful startups gives it credibility with investors, Learned said. In addition, the institute holds events teaching entrepreneurs how to tailor pitches to investors streamlining what both sides need from the other.

“It’s a symbiotic relationship,” Learned said. “Invest-ors are looking for deals, and companies are looking for money. WBI helps with that.”

An institute report says 47 alumni companies that went through institute programs received $207 million in from angel and venture capital funds and $706 million in company sales or public offerings.

The largest institute event is the annual Investors Choice conference. At the most recent conference in Salt Lake City, 20 startups pitched to 240 potential investors. At least one Boise company received funding: Social Good Network, which sold this year to Boise marketing firm Oliver Russell when the network failed to obtain the full financing it sought.

The institute held its first Deal Forum event in Boise in November. Four local startups pitched to potential investors, including:

• Baseline Systems, a Boise company that makes high-tech sprinkler systems.

• BiologiQ, an Idaho Falls company that makes biodegradable plastics.

• Silverback Learning Solutions, a Boise online learning tool company.

• GenZ Technology.


Thompson said his GenZ pitch benefited from institute-coordinated mentorship and feedback on what he could do better.

“They are trying to help you give a better pitch and to prepare a better business plan, while also trying to connect you with funding sources,” Thompson said. “That’s the biggest difference from Silicon Valley. There, if investors aren’t interested, they won’t even return a call, and you have no idea why.”

The company worked with Wayne Brown Institute’s business mentors for six weeks refining its pitch, Thompson said. At the event, he pitched to about 40 investors, generating five or six leads, he said.

The late Wayne Brown was a longtime professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Utah. Brown also founded several engineering and technology firms, according to the institute website. He founded the Utah Innovation Center incubator and Utah Ventures, which is now Pelion Partners, Utah’s first venture fund.

Zach Kyle: 377-6464@IDS_zachkyle

2017-05-23T11:36:48-06:00 December 18th, 2014|

About the Author:

The Wayne Brown Institute was founded by the late Dr. Wayne Brown in 1983. Dr. Brown held positions in mechanical engineering and served as Dean of the College of Engineering at the University of Utah. In addition to his academic postings, he was a founder of Kenway Engineering (HK Systems), TerraTek, NPI (Agridyne Technologies), the Utah Innovation Center (the world’s first venture accelerator/incubator) and Utah Ventures (now Pelion Partners, Utah’s first and largest venture fund). By virtue of his academic, government, and business background, Dr. Brown was a leading authority in technological innovation and entrepreneurship. Many of the world’s science/research parks, innovation centers, and incubators have their roots with Dr. Brown. In addition to his many accomplishments, he has affected the role of government in innovation and entrepreneurship as the architect with Roland Tibbitts of the national Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. Later, as head of the State’s Science Council he spearheaded legislation to create the Utah Technology Finance Corporation (UTFC, now Innoventures), and Utah’s Centers of Excellence program. He successfully negotiated with the U. S. government to obtain military land for the establishment of the University of Utah’s Research Park, and key in the establishment of the USU Research Park and Timpanogos technology Park in Orem (Novell campus). His knowledge, experience and passion live on in the Wayne Brown Institute, its staff, its investor-led Board, and its countless supporters.