Reno-based accelerator program fosters growth for Northern NV startups

Kyle McClelland, president of Have Lights Will Travel

Kyle McClelland, president of Have Lights Will Travel

RENO, Nev. — Wes King was tired of checking work emails on Saturday nights.

King, owner of energy bar company Tahoe Trail Bar, knew he needed to take a step back and analyze his business while being amidst like-minded entrepreneurs and small business owners — those who also found themselves propped up in bed on Saturday nights, bathing in the glow of their laptops, hacking away at their inbox.

“As an entrepreneur, you’re just constantly on,” King said in a phone interview with the Northern Nevada Business View. “But, ironically, you aren’t always doing the things that are the most beneficial to your business by just continually volleying emails or whatever you’re doing. It’s stepping back and saying, ‘OK, strategically is this actually working? Or could this be done better or differently?’”

Simply put, King wanted to spend less time working in his business and more time working on his business.

With that, King joined the Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) Reno Tahoe chapter’s accelerator program. One of 50 EO accelerators nationwide, the Reno Tahoe program launched some six months ago, in February 2018.

The program, according to the EO website, is designed to empower first-stage entrepreneurs with the tools, accountability and community to grow their business to more than $1 million in sales.

To qualify for the EO accelerator program, a Northern Nevada entrepreneur must be the owner or founder of an operating business with gross yearly revenues of at least $250,000, but no more than $1 million.


With Northern Nevada exploding with economic growth and opportunities, one could argue that being in an accelerator program like EO’s is more important than ever, said Relina Shirley, who serves as the chair of the accelerator.

Shirley is the cofounder and CEO of HIDEit Mounts, which makes wall mounts for electronic devices, such as game consoles, cable boxes and media players.

Currently, Shirley said, there are around eight members in the accelerator program. However, she imagines that number doubling within a year or two.

“Based on the tremendous startup environment around here, our accelerator program could grow pretty significantly,” she continued. “This program offers a tremendous amount of educational value that you really just can’t get somewhere else. That’s coupled with an accountability group, so you have that peer-to-peer interaction.”

When Shirley and her husband’s Reno-based business was under $1 million in revenue, they sought out mentorship and peer interaction as a way to help with their decision-making. She said it was an eye-opener.

Specifically, Shirley pointed to a time when she and her husband, Chuck, were so “in the weeds” of their business that they were counting and placing tiny screws in plastic baggies all themselves. It was then that they realized they needed to starting hiring employees.

“Having mentors that were able to look at it from up here,” said Relina Shirley, raising her arm to emphasis her point. “They’re going, you guys are seriously making screw bags yourself? Having somebody outside look at what you’re doing is eye opening.

“You can’t do it yourself, not if you want to grow.”


However, that’s oftentimes difficult for an entrepreneur or small business owner to accept. Being an entrepreneur can be a lonely road, Shirley said, but it doesn’t have to be.

“When I speak with other small businesses that aren’t involved in any kind of a group, a lot of them have the mentality of ‘nah, I’m good, I’m good,’” Shirley said. “I went through that before where I thought I’m fine — we’re growing and everything’s moving in the right direction. And then all of a sudden there was a day where I realized, oh my gosh, we’ve grown to a point that I am not sure what to do with this situation.”

Kyle McClelland, president of the EO Reno Tahoe chapter, said that’s a more common problem — growing too fast — than people might think. McClelland is the president of Reno-based Have Lights Will Travel, a mobile lighting contractor serving the Reno-Sparks and the Las Vegas areas.

“There is such a thing as turning on the fire hose and you can’t take it all in,” McClelland said. “That’s really what accelerator’s for — it’s to get people the experience, the knowledge, the education so that they can help improve their business.”

Making lasting impacts

Roughly six months into the program, King, of Tahoe Trail Bar, is already seeing a difference as a member of the EO Accelerator.

“The reason I’m so attracted to it and the reason I like it so much is that there is a very defined curriculum,” said King, noting that the group is currently studying Verne Harnish’s “Scaling Up,” a textbook on the Rockerfeller habits of business. “And there is a very large impetus for specific digitally-insulated working days throughout the year where for eight hours you turn off your WiFi and your phone and you just work with fellow entrepreneurs on your business.”

In the process, King said it’s forced him to look at his business through a different lens, and less at his laptop on Saturday nights.

“Being around the right people, the right educational tools, the right curriculum,” King said, “and to feel and see and absorb and watch that information being implemented by other entrepreneurs … that cocktail of learning, for me, is the kind of experience that makes lasting impacts on me and my business.”

Accelerator members who successfully surpass the $1 million sales mark become eligible to become a full-fledged EO Reno Tahoe chapter. Shirley said it typically takes an entrepreneur two to three years to graduate out of the accelerator program.

Founded in 2000, the EO Reno Tahoe chapter currently consists of 37 members, with 29.7 percent of the group being female entrepreneurs, McClelland said. The median member sales figure is $2.5 million. Globally, there are more than 1,200 EO accelerator participants and nearly 13,000 EO members.

“It takes a special kind of person to be an accelerator member, it takes a special kind of person to be an EO member,” McClelland said. “You have to check your ego at the door. You can’t say ‘I know it all.’ Because the reality is, none of us know it all.”


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