Tfor rent Mano and Scott Paul make no secret of their love for Utah. Together, they are partners in Convoi Ventures, a new fund investing in Utah start-up businesses and web3 companies.
Paul is a long-time angel investor well-known in the Utah blockchain world, and Mano has been in the startup world for some time. Mano says he can see Utah’s business ecosystem maturing in the number and quality of startups coming out of the state, along with the number of venture funds and angel investors funding those businesses.
What wasn’t developing was early stage funding: pre-startup investors who would take a chance on the founders before anyone else. It became “really, really obvious,” he says.
“We just saw a big gap that existed in the earliest stage of startups. We are extremely passionate about Utah and where Utah is going, and we look forward to the opportunity here,” says Mano. “We combined our passion for helping founders and our passion for the startup scene in Utah and the big gap that existed — that’s why we decided to create this fund.”
Convoi Ventures officially launched in January 2022 and they have already started investing. Paul and Mano see about 80 Utah startups a month and invest in about three. Most of Convoi’s investments are in web3/blockchain and other technology areas.
It’s no secret that Utah’s tech scene has been on the rise for years. Dubbed the “Silicon Slopes,” the valley has given rise to numerous emerging tech companies, from already well-known companies like Qualtrics and RTFKT to what can seem like a steady stream of upstarts. That doesn’t mean it’s easy to stick with state-owned companies.
“FOMO (fear of missing out) is real for investors,” says Mano. “Seeing my investor friends here in Utah announce really great deals in really great out-of-state startups — to be completely honest, there are times when I’m like, ‘Should we invest out of state?'” But our goal is that every a company that raises a seed round, at least we will have seen and had the opportunity to invest in them. After six months of work, I can say that we are on the way to doing it.”
Of the funds they’ve invested in so far, Mano estimates that about 45 percent are startups in Utah County, 45 percent in Salt Lake County, 5 percent in Park City and 5 percent elsewhere in the state. Mano says that while they won’t invest in more than 95 percent of the companies they talk to, they try to help those people through some kind of connection or constructive feedback.
this is important At the early stage, none of these companies have sales yet, which means that the decision to invest often comes down to the founder. Mano prefers to invest in people he has known for a long time – those who have built successful businesses in the past or have come through the ranks of corporate work. For those he does not know, it is more difficult.
“I’m a little unconventional in how I talk to founders because I don’t really focus a lot on the business,” he says. “I want to really understand them: how they work, why they care about the space, what they’ve been through that makes them resilient enough to do one of the hardest things, which is building a startup.”
Another focus for Mano and Paul is investing in diverse founders and focusing on gender and ethnic diversity. So far, about a third of the founders backed by Convoi come from diverse backgrounds, Mano says.
“In that respect, we’re not a socially driven, mission-driven company,” he says. “We just think Utah represents a lot of opportunity that is under-capitalized.” We think that underrepresented founders are a huge opportunity that many people don’t pay as much attention to as they should. The way we’ve done that is we’ve made sure that more of our investors, our LPs, come from different programs and we’ve got a bunch of programs that we’re working on that people will see coming out soon, we’re really focusing on diversity and making sure, that we invest in different founders.”