RENO, Nev. — For entrepreneurs, momentum is everything.
It's that invisible force that makes growing a startup feel easy when things are moving, and impossible when things are static.
And so, when the coronavirus pandemic shut down Nevada in the midst of the University of Nevada, Reno Innevation Center's spring accelerator program, some of the participating entrepreneurs were afraid to lose that coveted momentum.
Just ask Dave Spitsen, co-founder of BuildingBloc, a fintech company developing a blockchain-based solution to payment issues in the construction industry.
The startup was one of four early-stage companies selected for the spring 2020 InNEVator, which had more than 60 applicants.
The eight-week, fully funded, hands-on accelerator was three weeks in when it had to swiftly shift to an online-only format due to the COVID crisis.
“As a startup, about the worst thing that can happen is to have things shut down right in the middle,” Dave Spitsen said in an interview with the NNBW. “Moving everything virtual was definitely difficult; changing everything from a physical interaction to a digital interaction was definitely a challenge.”
Spitsen and his co-founder and brother, Gary, headed into quarantine with their families in South Lake Tahoe and Truckee, respectively.
The other three startups — Artcryption, Chainstor, and REXS.IO — had much longer treks home, migrating back to Canada, England and Poland, respectively.
Leaving the cohort and the mentors they had built budding relationships with, Spitsen said, was “the hardest part” of the switch to an accelerator-from-home format.
“We had just gotten momentum,” he added.
‘EXPERIENCED ENTREPRENEURS ARE THE BEST MENTORS'
Despite the barrier of doing half of the program digitally, Spitsen said the InNEVator remained “instrumental” in helping BuildingBloc “get off the ground.”
“Their experience-level is so high and they were willing to help you get through the little hurdles that all entrepreneurs struggle with,” he said. “So, they had a great format to teach the teams how to be successful. It's really hard to concentrate on or to actually point out your own weaknesses.
“They were really strong at showing us where we needed to focus so our companies were stronger.”
Which is exactly what the InNEVator aims to accomplish, said Grace Chou, director of the Innevation Center.
“The reason why people go to an incubator or accelerator is so they get the tools that they need to look at their business,” Chou told the NNBW. “Experienced entrepreneurs are the best mentors. I made a concerted effort to talk to entrepreneurs who have ‘been there, done that' to be the mentors.
"I think a critical component of a good accelerator is to have good mentors.”
WHAT'S NEXT FOR BUILDINGBLOC
Since completing the InNEVator, Spitsen said BuilingBloc has been selected to participate in another Reno-based accelerator, the recently launched RNOX.
“After going through this (InNEVator) accelerator and getting the proof-of-concept going, we're now going to get the funding and MVP (minimum viable product) funded by RNOX,” Spitsen said. “We're so lucky that we got an offer from them.”
Once in the RNOX program, Spitsen said BuildBloc will be able to hire a CTO and a tech team to help build out their platform.
Even further down the road, Spitsen said BuildingBloc has plans to establish a headquarters in Reno and hire more local staff, including a sales team.
“From the support that we're getting and the business ties that we're developing, it only make sense to build a hub in Reno and try to branch out from there,” Spitsen said. “The ecosystem is ripe for a company like ours, and we think it's our best bet to foster ourselves here in Reno.”
LET'S GET IT STARTED
Now in its fourth year, the InNEVator has assisted several businesses, many of which have chosen to locate future operations in Northern Nevada.
Blockchains LLC served as the main collaborator for this spring's program, with UNR, Meadows Bank and The Row serving as top sponsors. Below is a brief breakdown of the three foreign companies accepted to this spring's accelerator, courtesy of UNR:
REXS.IO: Co-founders Krzystof Radecki and Przemek Szleter from Poland, who also were accepted into an accelerator based in London, learned about the InNEVator through a connection to a recent trade mission to Poland organized by the Nevada Governor's Office for Economic Development. The startup has developed a blockchain-based solution to authenticate data and video. There are many applications where data integrity is critical, including insurance evidence, infrastructure maintenance and industrial IoT, to name a few. The REXS.IO solution has a modular design that makes it easier to integrate with existing IT infrastructure.
Artcryption: Hailing from Canada, Artcryption is developing a blockchain-based solution to protect artists against copyright infringement, allow more efficient licensing of creative content and allow consumers to verify the authenticity and integrity of a product. With the company's expertise in intellectual property and art law, they understand the importance of a platform that helps protect artists' creations. Counterfeits, copyright infringement and other art crimes cost artists, galleries, and art dealers billions of dollars each year. Artcryption's platform could be used to record and transact art pieces with authenticity and reduced cost.
Chainstor: Counterfeit products cause big brands billions of dollars a year. Chainstor's blockchain-based solution has the potential to address supply chain issues in multiple industries. Chainstor has co-founders from the United Kingdom and the United States.