Business owners in northern Nevada are beginning to take advantage of an online service that lets them tap the expertise of top executives and consultants in the region.
Within the first 90 days of its launch, Nevada Connectors had fielded 23 inquiries from business owners and managers. The team of 31 experts "Connectors" in the jargon of the program had provided answers to 19 of those questions while four of them still were in process last week.
Nevada Connectors, which was created the by College of Business at the University of Nevada, Reno, and the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada, is the height of simplicity:
A businessperson with a question posts it at Nevadaconnectors.com. One of the experts steps forward, makes a connection with the company that has a question and works to find answers.
Questions have ranged from the very specific "How do I market a new product line on a limited budget?" to inquiries that cover big strategic issues within an individual business, says Chris Howard, one of the founders of Nevada Connectors.
The program is believed to the first of its kind in the nation.
Howard, a venture capitalist and business consultant who also works as director of entrepreneur initiatives at the UNR business school, has handled one of the inquiries himself.
He visited the facilities of the company that posed the question and spent several hours working with its managers to develop solutions to the problem they faced.
"It made me feel to good to think that I made a difference," he says.
Tom Matter, out-of-market business development manager for EDAWN, handles day-to-day management of the program. He wants to ensure that the questions handled by Nevada Connectors experts aren't overwhelming.
"It's not a huge commitment by them," he says. "We're not asking them to mentor or consult with a company for a year."
The 31 volunteers range from Norm Dianda, a founder of Q&D Construction, to high-tech marketing expert Doug Van Aman and sales-management consultant Alice Heiman. The cadre of Connectors has increased by five since the launch of the initiative in June.
Now, he says, Nevada Connectors is working to increase awareness of the free assistance among business owners and managers.
EDAWN is committed to the program, Matter says, because successful locally owned companies are likely to add employees and provide a foundation for the region's economic recovery.
Howard says organizers were heartened by early interest in the program, both among businesses wanting help and experts willing to share their time.
"There is clearly a place for this service," he says. "People are recognizing that it has value."