Utah’s Kickstart Seed Fund has closed a new $230 million fund, more than double the value of its last fund in 2020 and the largest to date for one of the state’s most well-established and active venture capital firms.

The oversubscribed fund pushes Kickstart’s assets under management to nearly $500 million and will be a boon to startups in the Mountain West, where new business launches have ballooned in the last several years.

The Cottonwood Heights-based firm, which launched in 2008, also announced plans to open a new office in Colorado, a state where Kickstart has backed startups since its inception.

While Kickstart will be backing startups throughout the West with investments out of its new fund, founder and general partner Gavin Christensen said companies in its home state will continue to be a focus.

“We anticipate investing about half of this fund in Utah,” Christensen said. “We will continue to be the most active investors in Utah, as we have been for the last 15 years.”

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Rebecca Trusty, community and content associate, and Brianna Bowles, director of operations, right to left, work at Kickstart Fund in Cottonwood Heights on March 13, 2023. | Ryan Sun, Deseret News

Christensen noted the economic impacts of COVID-19 led to some slowing in the venture realm and stress-tested companies that weren’t well positioned for the changes in consumer and business spending patterns. But, he said Kickstart’s investment philosophy weathered the upheaval well and the firm is well positioned for moving forward on a continued growth arc.

“We’ve tried to stay very grounded at Kickstart,” Christensen said. “We’ve stayed focused on excellence around servicing seed and pre-seed. We didn’t go chasing after SPACs, didn’t start doing growth stage rounds. The challenges are the same and so are the things we look for.

“It’s hard to build great businesses. We’re looking to reward gritty entrepreneurs with passion and drive.”

Christensen said the startup ecosystem is in the midst of a transformative wave right now, driven in large part by emerging artificial intelligence tools and companies looking for the best ways to put the new tools to work.

“AI is going to dwarf everything else,” Christensen said. “We’re going to see a lot of development of functionality and value that can be had by leveraging AI.

“It’s a really exciting time that way. The promise we’ve been hearing for so long in terms of efficiencies, we’re finally starting to see those efficiencies.”

While Utah’s tech ecosystem has seen continued expansion and is now a direct or indirect supporter of 1 in 7 jobs in the state, Christensen said he’s also concerned about how the state’s overall growth is impacting the environment for business startups.

“We really care about what happens in Utah,” Christensen said. “Housing, air quality, education, our water situation and what’s happening with the Great Salt Lake. These things are all a big deal for us.

“We’re spending more time than we ever have to make sure these things get fixed. These issues are bigger constraints on growth than finding enterprises to invest in. We’re committed to helping solve the macro problems to keep them out of the way of the progress.”

Besides expanding its physical presence into Colorado with a new office that will be run by Kickstart general partner Dalton Wright, the firm also recently hired former Degreed president Kat Kennedy as a new general partner.

When Kickstart announced Kennedy joining the firm as a general partner last August, Christensen said her experience, passion and grit were a perfect fit for the investment group.

“Kat has an unmatched skill set when it comes to scaling companies,” Christensen said in a press statement about the hiring news. “Her gritty, entrepreneurial spirit and passion for helping other entrepreneurs was exactly what we have been looking for.

“Kat’s addition allows us to scale at a time when so many venture firms are pulling back, not only on investments but on building their teams. Kat truly embodies everything we value here, and we’re excited to see what the future holds with her perspective on board.”

In a Deseret News profile last fall, Kennedy shared her feelings about Kickstart being the perfect match for the kind of investor role she wants to fill.

“What I love about Kickstart is their strategy around deploying capital specifically here in the Mountain West and that they also deploy at the earliest, pre-seed and seed stage,” Kennedy said. “I believed the empathy I could bring would be most valuable at the early stage.”

Team members meet during a partner’s meeting at Kickstart Fund in Cottonwood Heights on March 13, 2023. | Ryan Sun, Deseret News
‘Gritty’ new venture investor Kat Kennedy is ready to up the ante in Utah’s tech ecosystem

Kickstart’s latest venture fund will fuel expansion to its current portfolio and numerous success stories including with brands like Angel, Artemis, Aumni, Chatbooks, Cotopaxi, DSCO, Galileo (SoFi), Havenly, Lucid, Moises, Nav, Nomad, Nursa, Podium, Pura, Qwick, Self, Sondermind, Spiff and Taskeasy.

And it’s a buildout that will be driven by a lot more than just the checks Kickstart writes to the companies it believes in.

“We take intelligent risk and we do it in a systematic and repeatable way,” Christensen said. “Our companies are backed by our entire team and we are in it for the long haul.

“One of the most important things we’ve worked to do is normalize the entrepreneurial journey. That journey is one defined as much by challenges and struggle as it is in those moments when you’re on stage, being applauded by your peers. Every successful founder has a story ... that goes to their courage in overcoming diversity on their journey.”