OGDEN — The Salt Lake City-area has Silicon Slopes, the loosely defined cluster of tech and other related companies.

It makes James Taylor, director of Weber State University‘s Technology Commercialization Office, wonder about prospects for something akin to that radiating out of Northern Utah. “How come that’s not happening here?” he said.

Now, though, following news WSU will get $719,000 from the U.S. Department of Commerce to help would-be entrepreneurs with micro grants, he’s increasingly hopeful. “My hope is this can be a catalyst to start growing that innovative economy, that innovative ecosystem here in Northern Utah,” he said.

The grant and the Wildcat Seed Fund it will help fund may not solely transform the area around Ogden. But he sees the new entrepreneurial grant program as key, in conjunction with other initiatives at Weber State, in developing the business climate in the area. “We’re at the beginning of the ecosystem,” said Taylor.

The program funded by the $719,000 allocation from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration should get off the ground by next spring, he thinks, helping those who are in the formative stages of trying to launch a business. He envisions relatively small grants, perhaps $500 to $1,500, aiding in some of the preliminary things it takes to get a business going, like creation of prototypes, for instance, or attending workshops.

“It’s to kind of jumpstart things,” Taylor said. The grant program would be open to any sort of business and would-be entrepreneurs from across Northern Utah, whether they’re associated with Weber State or not. He envisions food truck operators, software developers and more, with the entrepreneurs also pitching in their own money.

Brandon Stoddard, who heads Weber State’s Hall Global Entrepreneurship Center, sees great things happening in Northern Utah, citing the university’s efforts to foment business development.

“Weber State has taken a leadership position in fostering new ideas to turn concepts into real businesses,” he said in a statement. “We believe surrounding counties are primed to become some of the hottest areas for entrepreneurship in the country. Weber State is creating the model for what lies ahead.”

The grants provided wouldn’t necessarily be enough by themselves to get a new business fully functional. Rather, Taylor sees the grants as one preliminary part of pulling a business together. He envisions mentoring to help grant recipients and, as a plan evolves and grows, potentially seeking larger loans or other funding sources.

“I think it has potential to be a catalyst,” Taylor said, also noting other initiatives at Weber State meant to help foment business development.

Part of the $719,000 grant will be used to run the new program and other associated costs. The funds are to be allocated over three years, and Taylor hopes by then Weber State can find new partners to keep the micro grant effort going.

Contact reporter Tim Vandenack at tvandenack@standard.net, follow him on Twitter at @timvandenack or like him on Facebook at Facebook.com/timvandenackreporter.

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