John Seelmeyer

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November 1, 2010
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Support for startups a growing priority

The spotlight slowly is moving onto efforts to create homegrown jobs as a base for northern Nevada's economy.

No one ever doubted the importance of entrepreneurial companies to create jobs, but organizations such as the University of Nevada, Reno, the Nevada Commission on Economic Development and the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada these days are stepping up their efforts to provide more support to startup companies with big ideas.

For starters, they're trying to figure out what an entrepreneur-driven economy needs: Money? Management talent? Good ideas that can be turned into businesses?

And they're taking a look at the patchwork of groups that assist startup companies in the region well over a dozen, by a conservative count to determine if there are other needs that remain to be met.

The UNR College of Business hired Chris Howard a veteran Reno businessman and co-founder of NorthStar Investors as director of entrepreneurship initiatives.

His job: Set a direction for UNR programs that includes elements such as a newly created minor in entrepreneurship, student involvement in an entrepreneurs' club and business plan competitions and concepts to encourage potential entrepreneurs during their earliest years as schoolchildren.

"We've got to somehow coalesce these activities," says Greg Mosier, dean of the UNR college of business. "And we're trying to do it with little or no money."

Perhaps the most important job that the university can accomplish, Howard says, is development of a system that allows potential entrepreneurs to tap more quickly into the abundant expertise of seasoned business people in the region.

He's talked in recent months, for instance, about development of an online network that would create a large group of experienced business people who would be available to provide counsel to startup companies.

That reflects Howard's belief that the key to success of a startup is good management. Funding almost always will be available for companies with good ideas and good management, he says.

EDAWN, meanwhile, has assembled a small group of advisors to study creation of what it calls its "Innovative Growth Initiative" modeled on a successful program in Toledo, Ohio.

Chuck Alvey, EDAWN's president and chief executive, says the Toledo program made a focused effort to identify ideas with commercial potential, linked good ideas with good managers and combined $15 million in state funding with $7 million in private funds to finance some of the startups.

Many of the building blocks for a similar effort already appear to be in place in northern Nevada, Alvey says.

But both sides of the equation tapped by the Toledo initiative finding good ideas and finding money to support them have proven to be stumbling blocks in northern Nevada.

The Reno Angels, a group of investors who are looking for good ideas they can back financially, have heard pitches from 90 companies since the group was formed in early 2008. They've taken a stake, however, in only one company, Reno's InTUUN, a health-care information technology provider.

On the other side of the coin, organized venture capital channels in Nevada are limited, says Dave Archer, chief executive of Nevada's Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology.

"We have no VCs," he says. That's important because many venture capitalists like to be close to their investments "They want to invest in things they can touch," Archer says and northern Nevada startups often have trouble raising money outside the state.

A particular challenge, he says, has arisen among companies that need $5 million to $20 million.

But smaller startups have faced problems, too, as two of the most important sources of entrepreneurial financing home equity lines of credit and personal credit cards dried up with the recession, says Steve Conine, communications chair of the Entrepreneur's Organization of Reno/Tahoe.

"You have to have a certain amount of capital before you can take that leap of faith," Conine says.

The Nevada Commission on Economic Development, meanwhile, wants to get a handle on the help that's available to entrepreneurs.

"We've got to figure out what support assets we have and what we don't have," says Michael Skaggs, director of the commission. The agency has contracted with Nevada Institution for Renewable Energy Commercialization to undertake the survey.

Archer notes that identifying the available help for entrepreneurs is only half the battle. The other half? Informing entreprenuers.

"There's no way to get the message out to 100 percent of the people," he says.


The entrepreneurial support network

Among the northern Nevada organizations that are playing or planning a role in the support of an increasingly entrepreneurial regional economy:

* Nevada's Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology: Clearinghouse connecting entrepreneurs with resources.

* Nevada's Institute for Renewable Energy Commercialization: Assists inventors, early-stage companies with moving technology out of the lab and into the commercial arena.

* Nevada Microenterprise Initiative: Provides lending, counseling for startups and expanding small businesses.

* Nevada Small Business Development Center: Provides counseling, training and information for business owners.

* C4CUBE: Incubator in downtown Reno that supports startup companies some located within its facility, others virtual clients.

* U.S. Small Business Administration: Provides loan guarantees, training programs for entrepreneurs.

* Sierra Angels, Reno Angels: Investor groups that provide funding for startup companies with substantial growth potential.

* SCORE: Retired executives serve as volunteer counselors to small companies.

* Veterans Business Outreach Center: Provides buisness development services to veterans.

* Peer groups such as Entrepreneurs Organization and Vistage: Provide opportunities for entreprenuers to share experiences and seek advice of peers.

* University of Nevada, Reno, College of Business: Recently launched minor in entrpreneurship, looking to increase role in support of entrepreneurial activities.

* Truckee Meadows Community College: Offers classroom programs in entrepreneurship.

* Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada: Exploring launch of initiative to encourage and support creation of entrepreneurial business that generate employment.

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Northern Nevada Business Weekly Updated Nov 1, 2010 12:00AM Published Nov 1, 2010 12:00AM Copyright 2010 Northern Nevada Business Weekly. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.