‘An unprecedented time in Nevada history’: Silver State welcomes ‘entrepreneurial powerhouse’ status
Special to the NNBV
RENO, Nev. — As the aspirations of Reno’s entrepreneurs continue to rise, fueled by Northern Nevada’s increasing presence as a technology hub and a strong economy throughout the state, Reno’s entrepreneurial support and development community is growing by leaps and bounds as well.
Entrepreneurs no longer need to go it alone — there are a host of organizations dedicated to supporting entrepreneurial growth in the Truckee Meadows.
Groups such as Entrepreneurs Assembly, SCORE, Nevada Small Business Development Center, 1 Million Cups, StartUpNV and others are helping Northern Nevada entrepreneurs transform their ideas into scalable and revenue-producing enterprises. Entrepreneurs are starting more technology and other businesses than perhaps at any time in the city’s history.
Matt Westfield, entrepreneur-in-residence and adjunct professor at the University of Nevada, Reno College of Business Ozmen Center for Entrepreneurship, says many of these organizations sprang up following the Great Recession as out-of-work Nevadans scrambled to find their next new thing.
“We had all of these out-of-work professionals believing their lives were over — there were no support mechanisms because everyone was in the same boat,” Westfield says. “There were no jobs and no opportunities for anyone, especially entrepreneurs.”
Westfield was teaching an entrepreneurial course at the time and realized there was disconnect between aspiring entrepreneurs learning how to start a business at the university and a lack of support networks to help foster success in the early stages of the business cycle once they tried to bring their ideas to fruition.
‘This community had to change’
Entrepreneurs Assembly, which now operates out of the Innevation Center at the corners of Sinclair and Liberty Streets, sprang from those early days to provide a central location for entrepreneurs and founders to converge and convey their concerns and issues among peers. Westfield is a co-founder of the organization.
“Up until this point, the economic development entities were focused on homeruns, but I believed that if we nurture the singles, doubles and triples, the homeruns inevitably would come,” Westfield says. “I also did not want a double agenda of mentoring folks while trying to ask them for money to pay the rent of a typical incubator. I found partners with underutilized meeting spaces to give them an opportunity to open their doors to a new clientele and give founders a safe environment to share the challenges they face moving forward.
“We are in an unprecedented time in Nevada history, transforming it into an entrepreneurial powerhouse.”
Working in unison, these organizations are helping regional entrepreneurs understand how to overcome business and related challenges, as well as how to navigate early-stage pressures and advance their businesses its next lifecycle. Prospective entrepreneurs also are gaining insight into how to run their own businesses through entrepreneurship programs at UNR and the regional campus of Willamette University.
It’s a concerted effort that needed to happen, says Liz Heiman, Entrepreneurs Assembly’s 2019-20 board chair, since the casinos weren’t enough of an economic force to carry the day for greater Reno-Sparks.
“This community had to change, and we had to have a different kind of economy,” Heiman says. “The spark has been ignited, and (now) there’s this energy that’s growing. We are going to continue to attract entrepreneurs from various places that want to be a part of it.”
‘A safe space for entrepreneurs’
Karol Hines, executive director of Entrepreneurs Assembly, says the addition of large tech companies such as Apple, Google, Switch and Tesla over the last half-decade or so has helped seed the pot.
And while the entrepreneurial community in Reno continues to evolve, it still lags behind other tech-centric places such as Austin or Silicon Valley.
However, founders continue to bring their ideas here because of the many benefits over those regions — Reno is much more affordable that the Silicon Valley, it’s far less crowded than Austin, Texas, and it’s easier to make your ideas stand out here.
“Reno has come a long way,” Hines says. “One of the things EA is really focused on is that we know what is out there to support entrepreneurs. We send them to SCORE when that’s what they need, or we send them to StartUpNV when they are scalable. We help entrepreneurs get on track, and we know what it takes to build a business and understand who their customers are.
“We get them ready, and we collaborate with other groups in town so (entrepreneurs) get all the pieces they need to build their businesses,” Hines adds.
Ira Gostin, EA board member and marketing committee chair, says EA is a hub, or clearinghouse, for all entrepreneurial organizations in the Reno-Sparks community. While the university lays a foundation for entrepreneurs through its entrepreneurship minor, organizations such as SCORE, NSBDC and EA provide supplemental support with business advice, coaching and mentorship.
“We present a safe space for entrepreneurs to share experiences, and that has huge value,” Gostin says. “These people have the same problems, and (founders) can brainstorm, share and commiserate and get mentoring in a specific area.”
As these various entities continue to mature, their ability to help and attract new entrepreneurs, businesses and additional mentors is expected to increase as well.
“It is going to continue to help change and redefine the economy of Reno,” Heiman says.
“Entrepreneurship and small business ownership will continue to grow in Reno to the point that it becomes a significant part of our economy,” Gostin adds.
Heather Ashbridge, who started with Nevada State Development Corporation in 2008, previously served in several roles with the organization, including assistant vice president and loan officer. She is based in NSDC’s Reno office.