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The apprentices

John Seelmeyer

What’s the price of identifying some of the most talented young entrepreneurs in Nevada before they’re old enough to legally order a beer? For the Sierra Angels, a venture capital group based in Incline Village, the price is this: Volunteer involvement in the Governor’s Cup, a new competition which will seek the best business plans from students at universities, colleges and community colleges statewide.

The students will compete for more than $100,000 in prizes, thanks in large measure to the support of the Las Vegas-based Donald W.

Reynolds Foundation.

And ultimately, the students will be competing for the honor of the state as well.

Within a few years, organizers expect a competition involving students from Nevada, Oklahoma and Arkansas three states in which media magnate Donald Reynolds had significant interests.

In the meantime, venture capitalists like the chance to develop relationships with young entrepreneurs while they’re still in school, says Bob Goff, president of Sierra Angels.

The group already views the state’s universities as fertile ground for new business development.

“One of the things that angel groups look for is ways to commercialize technology that comes out of the universities,”Goff said.

And when it comes to developing entrepreneurial talent, Sierra Angels has encouraged companies it finances to look to the University of Nevada, Reno, and other schools for interns.

UNR, Sierra Nevada College and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas,will compete the first round of the contest,with winners to be announced in late April.

The competition was put together by the Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology, a nonprofit group affiliated with the state Commission on Economic Development.

Research by the center within the last year found that development of entrepreneurial skills is the single biggest needed to encourage development of new businesses in Nevada.

Business plan competitions appear to be an important part of that effort.

The Kauffman Foundation’s Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership sponsored a study of students who went to schools that focused on entrepreneurship and conducted business plan competitions.

Among the findings:

* Those students were three times more likely be involved with the start of a new business venture and 11 percent more likely to own their own company after graduation.

* They were 9 percent more likely to be involved with developing new technology products and 13 percent more likely to be involved with a high-tech company.

* They earned an average annual income 27 percent higher than students in other fields.

Alison Estee, managing director of the Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology, said the Donald W.

Reynolds Foundation pledged more than $3 million during the next five years for the competitions in Nevada, Arkansas and Oklahoma.

Fred Smith, chairman of the foundation, noted that Reynolds himself was an entrepreneur, starting with the days he hawked newspapers in Oklahoma City for 2 cents each.

From that start, Reynolds built Donrey Media Group, one of the largest

privately held media companies in the nation.

Estee said organizers continue to look for regional business organizations to support the program.

In northern Nevada, the group already includes Sierra Angels, the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada, the Reno Chamber of Commerce and the Technology Action Group.