Northern Nevada Business Weekly: Tell us about Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada and the role you play with the organization.
Doug Erwin: EDAWN is the economic development corporation here in town, and we are all about job creation. We go about it three ways: We do attraction, which is what most people are familiar with; retention, getting people to stay and support them; and entrepreneurial development, which is how you create a thriving ecosystem for entrepreneurs and companies that grow here from startups. I focus on building the environment to make entrepreneurs successful. Mostly I am not in my office. You are more likely to see me at The Hub, the Coffee Bar or Reno Collective, on campus. It is really important to be in the community because a lot of it is engaging with entrepreneurs in their environment. I spend part of my time mentoring companies or working directly with people that run programs like TEDx or Maker Faire. I also spend a lot of time working with the city to create programs like Reno Accelerator Fund. I’m kind of all over the place.
NNBW: How did you get into this profession?
Erwin: I am a serial entrepreneur; I have had three different companies. The last one was co-founder of Tahoe Stand Up Paddleboards. When I saw an opportunity to take my entrepreneurial skills and apply them to the community I thought it was an awesome opportunity.
NNBW: How does your background as an entrepreneur help you in this role?
Erwin: A lot of times people don’t associate EDAWN with the entrepreneurial journey. I think it adds a lot of credibility — I have been there when I haven’t been able to make payroll. I know what it’s like to go raise funding. I have had to lay off 10 people. I have the scars, the successes and the failures. As someone who has built a couple of startups, I think about the things that would have made my companies successful. We didn’t have a top-tier mentorship program, so we created one. It’s very difficult to get early-stage seed capital, so we worked with the City of Reno and New Bean Capital to create the Reno Accelerator Fund. We brought in the 1 Million Cups program. It comes back to things I would have benefitted from and what exists and doesn’t exist.
NNBW: What do you like most about the work you do?
Erwin: It’s dynamic and there are lots of moving pieces. It’s never boring. I love working with entrepreneurs and their ideas.
NNBW: What’s the most challenging aspect of your job?
Erwin: It’s very different from running a company, where you have a very defined relationship. In community work, you really have to understand the intrinsic motivation of people and figure out how to empower them to do things. It’s just a different way of getting things accomplished. It’s very challenging, but it’s also very rewarding.
NNBW: What do you consider to be your biggest accomplishment in your time at EDAWN?
Erwin: The emergence of Startup Row, which the result of a lot of work the community has done that supports 25 different startups. It is an organic movement that was just sort of created out of the work we are doing.
NNBW: What was your first job?
Erwin: I worked at Baskin Robbins as a teenager — but I started a computer company immediately after that.
NNBW: What’s your dream job, and why aren’t you working it?
Erwin: Right now I am really enjoying what I am doing. But ultimately, it would be really cool to run a foundation. I’ve come to realize that it is more rewarding to me to work in the community.
NNBW: What are your favorite hobbies or pastimes? How do you spend your time away from work?
Erwin: We have an Airstream trailer and like to do a lot of camping. We go a lot in the Eastern Sierra. I also like to fly fish.
NNBW: What did you dream of becoming when you were a kid?
Erwin: I wanted to be a pilot until I realized having to go to the Air Force Academy was really complicated.
NNBW: If you had enough money to retire right now, would you? Why or why not?
Erwin: No — I don’t know what I would do other than go work at a foundation. But it would be nice to have a little more time with the kids.
NNBW: What’s your idea of the perfect vacation?
Erwin: Right now, anyplace on the beach would be a nice vacation. My all-time favorite vacation would be going back to Belize to do some salt-water flyfishing and scuba diving.
NNBW: Why did you choose a career in northern Nevada? What do you like most about working/living here?
Erwin: I grew up in Arizona, and northern Nevada kind of reminds me of Arizona. I spent a short stint in Silicon Valley. I came to Reno via Lake Tahoe. For me, the access to the outdoors is one of the most important things. Three hundred days of sunlight also is really important. I did a stint in Seattle, and I left quickly; that was not for me. Now, since I have kids, it’s the real sense of community. We live on the edge of Midtown in the Old Southwest, and it’s amazing to be a part of that. We have a great network of friends and it is a really good place to raise a family.