EDAWN launches initiative to boost entrepreneurship

Doug Erwin spent last week trying on each of the hats he'll be wearing as vice president of entrepreneurial development for the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada.

It's a new job for the veteran entrepreneur, and he's launching an initiative that's a focused effort by EDAWN to spur entrepreneurial activity as a significant source of new jobs in the region.

Erwin will spend part of his week at EDAWN. He'll spend two days a week at the University of Nevada, Reno, where he'll work closely with the school's Technology Transfer Office, looking for ways to create new companies based on UNR research.

And he'll work as executive director of Entrepreneurship Nevada, a nonprofit established this spring that provides a central clearinghouse that connects entrepreneurs with the services that they need.

"This is a job to channel the activities of other people," Erwin says.

The entrepreneurial-development initiative at EDAWN is one of three strands that EDAWN Chief Executive Mike Kazmierski seeks to weave into a job-creation network.

The other two: Recruitment of new companies into the region, an effort that's headed by EDAWN Vice President of Business Development Stan Thomas, and retention and expansion of existing employers, a program that's led by Nancy McCormick, an EDAWN vice president.

Erwin brings wide personal experience as an entrepreneur to his new role.

Most recently, he was co-founder of Tahoe SUP, a designer and distributor of stand-up paddle boards and accessories. That company has been growing at a 300 percent annual clip.

After earning a degree in computer engineering from the University of Arizona, Erwin also worked with entrepreneurial companies in Silicon Valley.

His fundraising strategies for one of those startups, Pria, was recognized by the Kauffman Foundation. Erwin raised $8 million in angel and corporate financing for the company, which commercialized health-diagnostics technology from Stanford, and created a partnership between Pria and a $2 billion consumer products company.

From that experience, Erwin says he's learned that entrepreneurs need a combination of soft and hard services.

Among the most important soft services, he says, are good mentors and a network of peers to which entrepreneurs can turn for advice and support.

Erwin, for instance, is an active member of Entrepreneurs Organization and sits on the board of the group's Reno chapter. He also informally mentors a number of young entrepreneurs.

Among the hard services that need a close look, he says, is better ties between entrepreneurs and investors who are looking to put their money to work in startups.

"We need better access to capital," Erwin says.

The state government is taking some important steps with its creation of a fund that can invest as much as $50 million from the state's Permanent School Fund into venture capital deals, Erwin says, and numerous initiatives are under way in the private sector as well.

Efforts to support entrepreneurial companies need to reflect the reality that young companies need different types of support throughout their development, Erwin says. A company that's doing $1 million a year in sales needs different types of assistance than a company that's just beginning to raise money to make a prototype.

Working with individual companies is critical to the success of the EDAWN mission, Erwin says.

"If we can make companies better, that tends to drive job growth," he says.

Within a year or so, Erwin says his goal include establishment of the EDAWN initiative as a hub that links entrepreneurs with the services they need, and he hopes EDAWN can point to a success story or two within the first year. Even better, he says, would be successful companies created on the basis of research at UNR.

But the full benefits of a program to nurture young companies probably won't be seen for three to five years, he says.

"At the end of the day, we'll be judged by how much job growth we can create," Erwin says.


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