Finalists vie for $100k to aid startups | nnbw.com
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Finalists vie for $100k to aid startups

ANNE KNOWLES
aknowles@nnbw.biz

A dozen entrepreneurs — including seven from Reno and Sparks — made it to the final round of Project Vesto, a contest for promising Nevada start-ups sponsored by the Nevada Institute for Renewable Energy Commercialization and the Nevada Governor’s Office of Economic Development.

Now, it’s up to the public to pick the winner.

Starting soon, Nevada residents will be able vote for their favorite contestant online. Voting will last four weeks, and the business plan with the most votes will take home the $100,000 prize. Details about voting will be available at the Project Vesto web site at ves.to.

The finalists were chosen from 232 entrants who submitted a brief business plan, called a business model canvas, and then worked to sell their ideas in five-minute pitches to a panel of judges at events held in February in Reno, Las Vegas and Elko.

The finalists from Reno and Sparks and offer a diverse mix of business ideas:

The Caregiver’s Journal, a project by Reno management consultant Marie Gibson Archer, is a tool for family and friends of a hospital patient to keep track of the patient’s progress and care. “There’s a lot of overwhelming terminology and technology,” says Archer. “It goes back to that frustrating feeling in the hospital and wanting to advocate for the patient.” Archer launched the venture last year and wants to offer a journal application for smart phones and tablets in addition to the existing cloth-bound book she sells now at http://www.the-caregivers-journal.com. The prize would be used, in part, to hire someone to write the application.

High Powered Mobile Welding and Repair, the brainchild of John Orr, a Sparks welder, would provide on-the-spot welding and equipment repair for residences and businesses, saving them time and money. “If a crack forms in a stainless steel sink, the restaurant can repair it rather than replace it,” says Orr. “Same with construction equipment. Instead of taking it to the shop and causing downtime, I can come out and fix it on the spot.” Orr, who works for the state and already does some welding work on the side, says he would use the Project Vesto prize to buy a fully-equipped service truck and to advertise his business.

Hotlap.co uses the global positioning system on a smart phone or GPS device such as Garmin to help casual and competitive athletes track their performance. Jonathan Lee, chief executive officer, and Nic Vandermade, chief marketing officer, are both former professional motorcycle racers, so one focus is to help fellow racers improve lap times. “We both grew up in competing in motocross,” says Lee, “so we understand that market.” But Lee says the service, which records locations, times and heart rate, can be used to measure indicators for hikers, cyclists and other athletes. The service, which is being used by about 50 people right now, is free to track your performance and $4.99 a month if you want to compare yourself to other athletes. Lee says the Project Vesto prize would enable them to take the product from alpha to beta test and make it scalable to thousands of users.

Loogla is a system for learning language by using blended learning techniques to better engage each student. “The best way to learn a language is by doing what you’re interested in,” says Tyler Ulrich, who with partner Jen Peck launched loogla.com a few years ago after living in South America. Users can go to the web site to work with material they find most appealing. Ulrich does most of the coding while Peck’s background is in instructional design. They work with linguist Eckhard Bick on content. The site now features Spanish instruction, and Loogla would use the Project Vesto prize to beef up its content and eventually expand into other languages.

NTI Products was founded by father-son team Bob and Brian Wheeler, who are developing a device to easily hang pictures properly on a wall. “My father was sitting at his kitchen table one day, drinking coffee, and saw a picture on his wall that was crooked and thought there’s got be a better way to do this,” says Brian Wheeler. The pair has created a prototype of two products and the prize money would help in the move to manufacturing. They’re planning to show the devices to retailers at a national hardware show in Las Vegas in May. Brian was already working up the company’s strategy using the business model canvas required by Project Vesto so decided to enter the contest. “It helped me fast track all the things I might have dragged my feet on,” says Brian. “It helped us focus on everything we need to do.”

Reno Public Market would be a collective of food vendors similar to Pike Place Market in Seattle, says Clint Jolly, who with partner Susie Kapahee is working on making the idea a reality. Jolly, whose family owned Reno’s Butcher Boy market and who now runs Great Thyme catering, wants to establish a 10,000-plus-square-foot indoor market in midtown or downtown Reno featuring 20 to 25 permanent vendors with access to outside space for twice that many purveyors during special events. “It would also be an incubator,” for food businesses, says Jolly. “We have two main missions: to be a retail food outlet and a resource for food producers.” Jolly and Kapahee, who owns Mister G’s Teriyaki in Reno, are planning to hold an event demonstrating the idea during the voting period.

Trust Your Journey LLC sells jewelry, apparel, mugs and water bottles, most emblazoned with inspiring quotes designed to help women get through trying times. Ruth Nichols and Beth Brownlee, coworkers at Columbia Sportswear, established the business after Brownlee was diagnosed with and treated for breast cancer and Nichol’s husband suffered kidney failure and later died. “We decided to leave the corporate world and inspire other women to trust their path in life,” says Nichols. The products are made from sustainable materials and feature quotes from famous women such as Helen Keller. The business sells it wares both wholesale through sporting goods stores, including Scheels and retail at its web site, trustyourjourney.com. The pair would use the Project Vesto prize in part to hire a local employee to help with customer service.