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New tech effort prepares to set agenda

John Seelmeyer

Alison Estee doesn’t have any illusions about the big job that faces her as the new Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology prepares to roll out its action plan.

The center, an outgrowth of the TechAlliance that’s been working in northern Nevada since 1999, needs to tackle issues ranging from the availability of venture capital to the quality of the state’s schools.

Estee formerly known as Alison Schwartz will serve as executive director of the Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology, a mouthful of a name that will be known as CET for short.

It’s a public-private partnership that brings together the state’s Commission on Economic Development with the private companies that provided much of the funding for TechAlliance since its creation.

The organization’s goal: Foster entrepreneurs, particularly those in high-technology fields.

While the new center won’t formally announce its agenda until the economic development commission’s conference in Las Vegas this month, Estee said last week the effort to strengthen high-tech industries in the state covers a wide spectrum.

Money, for starters.

“We need to make Nevada an attractive place for venture capitalists to put their money,” Estee said.

The state has little homegrown venture capital, and CET will look development of venture capital both within the state and elsewhere.

A second major issue, Estee said, is development of a technologically skilled workforce.

That task will require a big commitment from the state’s colleges and universities, particularly in engineering schools.

The state’s elementary and secondary school systems, meanwhile, will need substantial attention if Nevada hopes to attract top-flight managerial talent for its technology industry, Estee said.

While the state’s quality of life may prove attractive to top managers, they are particularly interested in the quality of education that their children will receive.

“Until we really boost our educational system, we’re not going to attract those highly educated, incredibly talented people,” Estee said.

None of those priorities is new, as those focused on building the state’s technology industry have raised them often in recent years.

What is new, however, is the solid base created for CET.

TechAlliance, created by a group of northern Nevada entrepreneurs and business leaders just before the technology boom of the 1990s crested, was funded heavily by contributions from businesses.

The founders of TechAlliance also won U.S.

Department of Commerce funding.

As the economy slowed, Estee said, private fundraising became more difficult.

State officials shared an interest in maintaining the momentum established by TechAlliance, and worked with Tech Alliance for about six months to hammer out the deal.

“It was a pretty easy sell,” Estee said.

“The state needed someone to focus on technology.”

Because the newly structured CET includes the state government in its partnership, it will have a better chance at receiving long-term funding through federal and private grants.

Estee said she’s hopeful that a larger portion of the organization’s private funding can come from foundation grants rather than checks written by individual companies.

While development agencies such as the Reno-based Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada or the Northern Nevada Development Agency in the Carson City area look at wooing out-of-state technology firms to the area, Estee said CET’s priorities will be encouraging growth of homegrown technology companies.

For instance, he said the center will be a resource center for entrepreneurs and technology companies.

Bob Shriver, executive director of the Commission on Economic Development, said the new statewide effort will work closely with lawmakers to build Nevada as an attractive state for high-growth and emerging technologies.

“This statewide public/private partnership will bring focus to areas that will have the largest potential for diversifying and growing Nevada’s economy,” Shriver said.

CET will have offices in Carson City and Las Vegas, and Estee will divide her time between the two.

The agenda for CET will be set after a roundtable discussion of some of the state’s entrepreneurs at this month’s economic development conference.

Lt.

Gov.

Lorraine Hunt, who is the chair of the conference, said that discussion will identify the top three issues facing Nevada’s entrepreneurs today..


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