Jobs Team: Region needs venture fund

Backers of an effort to develop a venture-capital fund that would link northern Nevada investors with promising startups in the region feel some confidence that their efforts will bear fruit.

About 30 investors who potentially could help establish the fund will meet late this month with representatives of a management firm that's interested in overseeing a locally based venture fund.

The identity of the management firm hasn't been disclosed.

The need to create better channels to link entrepreneurs to investors has been identified as a priority by the Regional Jobs Team, a year-long initiative by Washoe County Commissioner Kitty Jung. The team brings together about two dozen representatives from the public and private sectors to identify strategies to create new employment in the region.

John Berkich, an assistant county manager who works closely with the Jobs Team, says the group increasingly believes that creation of homegrown businesses needs to be a cornerstone of efforts to rebuild the region's economy.

One roadblock to the creation of new companies and new employers appears to be lack of access to seed and early-stage funding to get the very youngest of companies on their feet, said Ky Good, a member of the Jobs Team and a managing director of C4CUBE, a business incubator in downtown Reno.

Supporters hope a newly created fund could provide $500,000 to $2 million to northern Nevada startups that show promise of growth and creation of employment.

Assuming that investors and a management company can reach agreement, the fund could in place by the second quarter of next year, Good said.

The fund-management company that will be town this month is separate from the venture fund with offices in San Francisco and Salt Lake City that met with Reno-area investors earlier this year to test their interest in creation of a venture fund.

That proposal from Scalar Partners would raise about $5 million from local investors, match it with $25 million raised by Scalar, and use the money to fund startups in northern Nevada and elsewhere.

Jeremy Neilson, managing director of Scalar Partners, said last week the proposal has drawn tepid interest from Reno-area investors so far.

The Jobs Team recognizes that money alone isn't enough to ensure the success of startups, Good said. The group also looks for ways to provide support such as management counseling to young companies.

Berkich said the Jobs Team is focused on development of good-quality companies that will provide a solid economic base for the region.

"We're looking for good corporate citizens," he said.

Good said the Jobs Team is generating momentum because it succeeded in breaking down some of the barriers between the private and public sectors.

"It brings everyone together," he said. "It's been an outstanding effort."

The team's goal for this year is creation of 500 new jobs that pay above the average wage in Washoe County. The average in the Reno-Sparks region currently is $20.52 an hour, reports the Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation.


Encouraging business, too, to buy locally

A year-old campaign that encourages consumers to buy from locally owned companies now is widening its reach to include business-to-business transactions. plans to provide a badge that locally owned B2B companies can display in their business windows and on their Web sites. The group also hopes to create a lead-generation network of 100 to 200 businesses, says Dave Asher, founder of the nonprofit headquartered in Reno.

The shop-local B2B campaign is an initiative of the Regional Jobs Team organized by the Washoe County government. maintains an on-line directory of locally owned businesses, and Asher said the lead-generation network would be online as well.

The nonprofit has estimated that a 10 percent shift in buying from non-local to local businesses in the Reno-Sparks would generate an additional $350 million in annual sales for locally owned businesses.


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