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Volunteer-driven NCET returns to its roots in tech

John Seelmeyer
jseelmeyer@nnbw.biz

Dave Archer figured Nevada Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology was on its last legs seven years ago after Congress killed $200,000 in federal funding to the nonprofit.

But the organization shifted its focus to an underserved market, streamlined its name and built a cadre of two dozen volunteers to take on work omce handled by paid staff.

The results: The organization now known simply as NCET expects to produce an ambitious schedule of 38 events this year, and its paid membership has been growing at a one-member-per-day clip in recent weeks.



Archer, the president and chief executive officer of NCET, says the key decision that led to the organization’s rebound from adversity was the creation of a larger board with hands-on responsibilities.

In its early days, NCET’s board of directors ran like the boards of most nonprofits: A half dozen business and community leaders got together every month to review the organization’s strategic direction and provide high-level counsel.



But when Congress pulled the plug on NCET’s funding, the Reno-based nonprofit laid off most of its staff and cut Archer’s pay in half.

“It forced us to re-examine what we were going to be,” Archer says. “In reality, NCET today has more capacity than we did then.”

Instead of relying on paid staff, much of the work NCET’s work today is handled by a 26-member board, each of whom is committed to volunteering an hour or two a week to the nonprofit’s work.

The big board is necessary because most of its work — membership development, for instance, or oversight of special projects — is handled by co-chairs.

The use of co-chairs not only divides the work into bite-sized pieces, but it also ensures that the work will get done even if a vacancy arises on the board.

A second key element in the rebound of NCET was the decision of its leadership to focus on the technology-oriented segment of its mission and leave entrepreneurial development to the dozens of other organizations that provide support to startups.

The programs appear to be meeting a need. NCET’s monthly “Tech Bite Luncheons” have been drawing about 100 people each. Its “Tech Wednesday” events provide a behind-the-doors look at technology outfits such as Digital Solid State Propulsion and the Nevada Terawatt Facility.

Its newest event, Jelly, is a monthly casual networking event — no program, nothing but networking — the third Wednesday of every month at Swill Coffee & Wine in Reno. Participants, many of them creative types who don’t have a traditional office, typically bring their laptops, plop down in a chair and bounce ideas off one another while they do a little work.

In addition to the monthly events, NCET puts on two major shindigs — its Tech Awards each spring and its Small Business Expo in the autumn.

Archer says membership growth has been strong. The organization now has about 350 paying members, and he says retention has been running at 77 percent.