#2 Pelion

In May 2002, Blake Modersitzki was planning to leave Utah and accept an offer from a firm in New York City. He heard his 10-year-old daughter crying in her bedroom across the hall — she did not want to move. 

   “Even though my wife says that I make people cry sometimes, I’ve never liked it when people are tearing up,” Blake says. In that moment, he decided to invest in his family and stay to raise his three daughters in Utah County. He joined Jim Dreyfous at Utah Ventures where he was the 8th employee. 

   At the time, Utah Ventures had $70 million under management. Since then, the venture capital company has changed its name to Pelion, raised seven funds, and now has $1.5 billion in assets under management. 

   Pelion is the OG, and Blake is the rain maker and deal shaker.  

Around 2010, we began to realize the name Utah Ventures was causing confusion. People would say, “Do you only do deals in Utah?” The answer is that 60 percent of our deals are in Utah, 30 percent from California and 10 percent from the rest of the world. The other question we would get is, “Are you the economic development arm of the state of Utah?” We had to change our name. We chose the name Pelion, and I wish I could tell you a great story about why we chose the name, but in reality we could get the URL. End of story.

The founder Jim Dreyfous retired in 2015 as he battled prostate cancer. To this day, he’s an advisor and we often go to lunch so I can glean from his wealth of knowledge. Jim and I were recently interviewed on “The 4th Node” podcast, which is hosted by Adam Edmunds of Entrata who is documenting the history of technology in Utah. 

We’ve had some home runs and some strikeouts at Pelion. Some of our successful deals include Riverbed Technologies, Cloudflare, Fusion-io, Divvy, Domo, LiveView and Nursa. 

One memorable strikeout was when we invested in an amazing wireless business that was generating more than $30 million in revenue. Cisco had a competing product and they started to give it away for free. That changed the landscape, and we had to sell the business off for parts. We now joke that I have a $13 million computer bag in my office because that’s all we ended up with from that deal. I love the venture capital business, but not all deals go according to plan. 

We work hard and we have a strong track record of finding companies who will succeed if properly funded. Pelion also has a fiduciary duty to our investors. I care deeply about the people whose money I am entrusted with. 

Through the companies we’ve backed the past 20 years, we have created in excess of 50,000 jobs globally. Some of my closest friends are CEOs I backed 30 years ago, and we still exchange Christmas cards. I am passionate about growing businesses in Utah. 

Magic is happening in north Utah County. The area from Orem to Lehi — and spilling into South Salt Lake County — is the No. 1 geography to create unicorns (businesses worth $1 billion). We raise money from investors all over the world, and a number of them already know about the innovation happening in Utah before we pitch to them.

We back several companies that have their pedigrees tracing back to WordPerfect and Novell. So much has come through the years as a result of what happened in the 1980s and 1990s in Utah Valley. Alan Ashton was such a visionary to purchase and create the Thanksgiving Point area where Utah County and Salt Lake County meet. 

Pelion has the good fortune of being the first venture fund here. We carry the responsibility to be a supporter, a catalyst, and a leader in innovations happening in Utah. One of our core strategies is to incubate companies. We give them office space where they can think, grow and collaborate. Our new headquarters at the Point of the Mountain will open later this year. It is the first Mass Timber project in Utah. 

We invest in about 40 companies at a time. We have 40 chances to succeed, but entrepreneurs have one. We created our Build Utah initiative to celebrate and support entrepreneurship. We want everyone to win. It is an honor and a responsibility to play a role in Utah’s ecosystem. 

“‘Up and to the right’ is not an entrepreneur’s journey,” says Blake Modersitzki, managing partner at Pelion. “It can be the loneliest experience on the planet to build a company. Pelion tries to take some of the tears out of the process.”