Finding success and navigating the “Valley of Death” for startup companies coming out of the University of Utah could get a lot easier thanks to a novel $5 million investment fund aiming to provide nascent entrepreneurs with opportunities to access cash when it is the hardest to get, and most needed.
Utah philanthropists Tim and Joan Fenton are backing the new University of Utah “Founders Fund,” a program aiming to accelerate promising student and university-connected businesses at earlier stages than might typically be of interest to traditional venture capital funds. And, unlike a typical academic institution donation, the $5 million comes in the form of an investment fund intended to generate returns over time from successful recipient businesses. Proceeds from those investments will, according to the Fentons, be plowed back into the fund so it can help even more startups in the future.
Local business giant and serial entrepreneur Tim Fenton said the new fund was inspired by his own early experience trying to traverse the “Valley of Death,” a term commonly applied to the precarious early stages of a startup effort when revenues haven’t started coming in and all available cash is going into developing a new product or service.
“I was attending the University of Utah and had been there for about three years when I started a new company,” Fenton said. “I was busy with that and about to become a new father. I didn’t have the income to continue at the U. and moved to put all my time and effort into this new company I was building.
“There have been numerous times I thought that it would have been a wonderful concept to have access to funding at that critical time for the business I was trying to start and it just wasn’t available.”