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Salt Lake City Unveiled

Jussi Leponiemi, Key Account Director (ICT) at BusinessOulu, brings us his fourth report from the United States as he participates in the International Visitor Leadership Program.

After fantastic time in sunny California, the journey continued to the breathtaking state of Utah, where majestic mountains serve as natural barriers for the city of Salt Lake City. Our meetings were coordinated by Utah Global Diplomacy, an organization dedicated to establishing global connections between the people of Utah and other nations, fostering mutual respect and international goodwill. They engage in two primary initiatives: facilitating professional and cultural international exchange programs within Utah, and hosting various global and cultural education programs tailored to individuals with diverse backgrounds.

A special acknowledgment is extended to Mr. Nicholas Merrill, whose invaluable assistance played a pivotal role in connecting us with the most intriguing organizations and individuals in Salt Lake City. I should note that all individuals mentioned in this article have provided their consent to be included.

Foundations of a Successful Business

“I thought it was a good idea and my mother thought it was a good idea but in reality the market was never there”

Throughout the program, we had the privilege of meeting numerous entrepreneurs and founders. Among these encounters, one meeting with innovators and founders stood out, providing us with invaluable insights. We engaged with Mr. Keenan Price, Mr. Ilja Vrajich, and Mr. Dustin Robins—accomplished founders with lots of experience across various industries. Here are some key messages emphasized by these seasoned professionals.

A central theme in their insights was the importance of validation. This aligns with the fundamental principles of Lean startup methods. It’s crucial to validate the market and potential customer base, validate the product or service, and validate the business model, among other aspects—well in advance. If there’s any uncertainty in the results, continue the validation process. Furthermore, be prepared to abandon an idea based on the obtained results. Instead of relying on gut feelings or intuition, trust in numbers and facts. Start with a modest offering, avoiding an overly ambitious Minimum Viable Product (MVP). Seeking help is crucial; remarkable outcomes can result from heeding advice. Additionally, if something isn’t working, it might not be the product at fault; it could be the method of implementation.


Life itself can be seen to a constant act of pitching, where we are essentially selling our perspectives and opinions, striving to get specific reactions from others. During a session with the distinguished author, founder, and investor, Mr. Tim Cooley, an expert in the art of pitching, we delved into this theme. Here are some key takeaways from that enlightening session:

  • Many people focus on what is needed but overlook why it is needed.
  • Avoid displaying an agenda; this is not a school setting.
  • Refrain from starting with the solution if the audience lacks awareness of the context.
  • Eliminate rhetorical questions from your pitch.
  • Align the proposed solution with the identified problem.
  • Discard the value proposition slide.
  • Avoid overwhelming the audience with excessive data.
  • Resist the urge to memorize your pitch.
  • Always conclude with a clear call to action.

While such lists may seem familiar, Mr. Cooley illustrated with numerous examples how these principles can genuinely make a difference. Engaging with well educated audiences requires attention to detail, as demonstrated by the high expectations they will have. These learnings, showcased by Mr. Cooley, prove invaluable for individuals across various professions and positions.

Ecosystem: Where It All Unfolds

While the focus of this piece is on small business development and entrepreneurship, I can promise the discussions on ecosystem-related notions will be featured in various forums. Following a visit to the Lassonde Entrepreneurial Institute, operating under the University of Utah, it became evident that these themes are indeed connected. This institute specializes in dedicated programs for the commercialization of innovations stemming from university programs, providing a concrete incubator program for high-tech startups to foster sustainable foundations for innovation.

Situated at the heart of the local ecosystem, Lassonde delivers early-stage companies with multiple tools to access funding, mentorships, partnerships, teams, and more. The university, boasting diverse disciplines and faculties, serves as a valuable knowledge hub, offering support across a wide range of topics. After a meeting with Mr. Troy D’Ambrosio, the executive director of the institute, and his team, it is evident that universities play a central and active role in managing the ecosystem. This dynamic is notably distinct from what is observed in places elsewhere.

Our journey also further emphasized the central role of universities in ecosystem management. While I’ll revisit this theme multiple times, it’s crucial to highlight that contemporary business development increasingly requires a dynamic construction—an ecosystem that supports and facilitates scalable, sustainable growth.

Salt Lake City provided a comprehensive exploration of these topics, with more insights yet to come from other destinations. Stay tuned!

Jussi Leponiemi

What is the International Leadership Development Program? Read Jussi’s intro blog to learn more.

All of Jussi’s reports from the USA