It's didn't take long for the questions from entrepreneurs to start flowing last week after the launch of the online Nevada Connectors initiative.
Among the first inquiries: A question from an entrepreneur who wants to establish strategic partnerships with other startup companies, but worries about the potential for legal entanglements.
Like other questions to www.NVConnectors.com, the inquiry was farmed out to one of two dozen business, financial and legal experts who've agreed to provide one-on-one consultation, one question at a time, with entrepreneurs.
Nevada Connectors is a joint venture of the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada and the College of Business at the University of Nevada, Reno.
It's a brainchild of Chris Howard, a longtime venture capitalist and business consultant in Reno who's also the director of entrepreneur initiatives at the UNR business school.
Howard started last autumn with two observations:
First, owners of startups and other small businesses generally need solid advice far more than they need money. In fact, he's said, too much money applied with insufficient guidance is likely to sink a startup.
And second, while many business professionals in the region are enthusiastic about providing assistance to startups, most are so busy with their own companies that they don't have the time for long-term mentor relationships.
Tom Matter, out-of-market business development manager for EDAWN, took those two observations and created Nevada Connectors.
"The idea was mine," says Howard. "All the work was done by Tom."
Matter says EDAWN was enthusiastic about the project because research has found repeatedly that the best source of creation of new jobs in a community is the growth of startup businesses.
And while Nevada Connectors is designed to boost local startups, Matter says it also will help in recruitment of outside companies to the region.
"It gives us credible business experts we can connect these businesses to who they can speak with about questions concerning their business and employees," he says.
The Web site developed by KPS3, a Reno marketing agency, works like this:
An entrepreneur visits www.NVconnectors.com and submits a specific question to be answered.
A member of the Nevada Connectors team accepts the question and makes arrangements to visit, either face-to-face or through a phone call, with the entrepreneur. E-mail conversations aren't allowed.
The Connector and the business owner get together, resolve the problem, and both move on.
Assistance is free.
Previous questions and answers, scrubbed of any identifying information, will be posted in an archive for reference by other companies.
"The beauty of the program is its simplicity," says Howard. "We didn't want a lot of bells and whistles."
Nevada Connectors launched with a cadre of 17 trained experts that includes successful entrepreneurs, accountants, lawyers, bank presidents, industrial developers and marketers.
Another nine experts will be ready to field questions after they complete a training program, says Matter.
He says EDAWN executives were heartened by the number of business people who jumped at the chance to participate in the program.
UNR business students, too, will benefit from Nevada Connectors. The school offers a minor in entrepreneurship, and Howard says students in the entrepreneurship program can use Nevada Connectors to find internships.
As Matter and Howard started work to develop Nevada Connectors, they were unable to find any other similar programs anywhere in the United States.
And that means, Howard says, that no one knows precisely how Nevada Connectors will develop over time to meet the needs of entrepreneurs.
For starters, he says, UNR and EDAWN hope merely that the site becomes a tool that's used routinely whenever business questions arise.