Qualtrics founder and Utah Jazz owner Ryan Smith has grand plans to create a "tech incubator," where people with startup ideas can live and work and bring their visions to life in a new Provo community.

He wants to build a live-work environment, with a residential neighborhood and office space, for entrepreneurs to utilize as they are taught how to grow their companies. The River District, as the project is called, will be located on the west side of University Avenue near 800 North and the base of Provo Canyon.

The location has gone through a rezone and design process and is in the permits and approval stage. The 26-acre development will have 198 residential units on the west side of the river, 300,000 square feet of office space on the east side and potential for commercial space, as well.

"Ryan's vision is that Provo will become ground zero for intellectual and technology development from around the world and that some of the brightest people from around the world will come here to develop the newest and brightest concepts in technology," said Keith Morey, Provo economic development director.

Provo city officials will help facilitate Smith's development, including planning and zoning to ensure the development adds value to the area, but Smith will be funding it himself. Construction is anticipated to start in the spring.

"The work we have done with the city of Provo over the past 10 to 15 years has been nothing but extraordinary," Smith said in a statement to Provo. "We will create Utah's first real incubator for tech and business. We'll invite people from around the world to Provo, where they can live and actually birth their companies in what we think is one of the coolest business and opportunity environments that exist."

"We have the chance to do something iconic in Provo," he said.

Morey said Smith's project and other startup endeavors make Provo a "fertile ground" for new generations of entrepreneurs to explore opportunities.

A history of innovative spirit

Morey said Provo is "Utah's startup central" and has been since the 1980s, citing technology companies WordPerfect and Novell who came out of BYU, employed around 15,000 people and trailblazed in word processing and network operating software.

"There was no grander technology presence in the world than right here," he said. "As those companies ultimately were bought off and broke up, the intellectual capital that comprised those companies — the brain power that developed those companies, all those engineers stayed here in this area. Over time they began to spin off and develop new companies."

Morey said there are three factors that contribute to Provo's "secret sauce" as a "seedbed" for development opportunity: a pioneering spirit that has endured since pioneers established the state, high-quality nearby universities with nationally ranked tech and entrepreneur programs and a "scrappiness" that comes from the large family sizes and lower income levels of the population in the city.

"People that have a lot of money just go buy what they need. People that don't have a lot of money start thinking of creative ways to get things done. There's this underlying culture of how do we pioneer new concepts and new technologies that maybe haven't been thought of," he said.

Companies such as Qualtrics, Domo, Pluralsight, Podium, Vivint and more, "have come from that pioneer spirit that I think is so in our genetic code here in Provo."

Children in Provo are educated to think differently and problem solve because they are raised by parents who are tech developers and professors, Morey said. The Provo School District also promotes innovation through professional learning programs such as CAPS, he added.

This adds to the overall innovative spirit and the "scrappiness and creative energy that I think is inherent in who we are," Morey said.

Morey said he agrees with Gov. Spencer Cox that Utah is an entrepreneurial economy, but Morey says the innovative energy began in Provo and Utah County.

"It's been going strong for 50-plus years ever since those original tech companies began to bud and develop and grow and ultimately sprouted spin-off companies that we're seeing and benefiting from today," he said. "It's important to remember that the (tech) genealogy traces all the way back to those incredible people, those visionary people that changed Utah forever."

The benefit of these startups, Morey said, goes way beyond just Provo and Utah County.

"Qualtrics is a globally recognized, international brand that benefits corporations and individuals all over the world. To think that that started in a basement here in Provo before it developed into what it is today, is astonishing and it's amazing," he said. "And although surely we have reaped some incredible rewards and we're enormously grateful for Qualtrics' presence here, its global impact is undeniable."

Morey said he thinks it's so special that the rich, lively startup culture in Utah benefits Utahns but also creates technology that benefits the world.

A lot of technologies that have come from Provo startups are taken for granted because the technologies are ubiquitous and used so frequently, he said, such as the word processing software created by WordPerfect or Ancestry.com, who revolutionized genealogy from a religious hobby to a way people find connectivity.

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"I'm the genetic beneficiary of thousands of years of people who lived well and I take that for granted ... all this technology is the same way," he said. "You use it and aren't ever truly aware or come face to face with the fact that all those people at some point were right here in Provo — brewing and developing incredible concepts and ideas that we utilize every single day," Morey said.

Morey said seeing other people succeed in creating new businesses helps "fertilize" the environment so others can be inspired and less intimidated about trying new things.

Kiln., a company that builds tech-oriented lifestyle workplace environments where people can grow businesses, has communities in Lehi, Park City and Salt Lake City and just opened in Provo. Business development manager Brent Garlick said Kiln CEO and Provo native Arian Lewis calls it an "ecosystem" in the city, for fostering startups.

"(Lewis) said there is something special about Provo that people don't understand. So here's an expert in the world of startups that looks around the world and says 'I don't know what it is but Provo has something unique.' And Ryan Smith the same way has said 'I would never leave Provo,'" Garlick said.

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