by Corrine Casanova
It’s fitting that a deck of cards reveals resources to produce a vibrant start-up community here in northern Nevada. After all, this state has a rich history in gaming and there’s a certain amount of respect for a deck of cards. An added bonus: there are no losing cards in StartUp Deck 2.0. When it comes to entrepreneurship, there are many players (resources) who just happen to be featured in the deck and that is intentional by design. The Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada (EDAWN) created the promotional tool to connect and promote start-ups and entrepreneurs in greater Reno-Sparks. Each card features a business, person or place that helps incubate ideas and generate leads for our economy. StartUp Deck 2.0 was Breadware’s introduction to Reno along with a short video conference call with EDAWN’s Doug Erwin, Vice-President of Entrepreneurial Development. Never underestimate a deck of cards. Today, Breadware, a start-up that changes the way companies approach, design and purchase custom electronic hardware for their devices, is one of our region’s hottest start-ups.
The Lure of Reno
Breadware founders, Daniel Price and Daniel DeLaveaga were in business for about 18 months before choosing to move their headquarters from Santa Barbara to Reno earlier this year. Prior to relocating, they looked at Los Angeles, Boulder and Seattle. The game changer was meeting Doug Erwin of EDAWN. Price shares, “We came to Reno on January 2, 2017 and Doug organized a tour of us. We met a bunch of start-ups, toured the Innevation Center and we were sort of won over immediately. We didn’t realize there was an entrepreneurial ecosystem that was burgeoning here. There were a bunch of pieces that came into the puzzle like the style and cost of living. Reno have everything you need in a city, but you can get out and be in Lake Tahoe quickly. That was something that was important not only to me and Daniel, but all our employees because we kind of made this decision to move together.”
The biggest little city idea was also appealing. According to Price, “We have plenty of resources and there is a talent pool here. It is a nice balance between little and big. We are recognized here and the community itself is strong and growing. If we moved to the Bay area, we’d just be another fish out there.”
Entrepreneur and natural-foods advocate, Kristen Jaskulski, chose to open her Kava bar in downtown Reno earlier this year. Through her previous work, she traveled across the country extensively and paid attention to what successful cities had and what Reno didn’t. After researching the demographics and creating a business and marketing plan, she felt Reno was a good fit for her new venture and opened Sol Kava in the West Street Market in downtown Reno. She is part of a unique community of businesses that share a collective space centered around food, friends, shopping and entertainment. Ron Jorgensen, Director of Counseling and Management Consultant of UNR’s Small Business Development Center (SBDC) was someone Jaskulski reached out to while doing her research.
No Shortage of Resources
Jorgensen knows the business landscape well as he’s been with the SBDC in Reno for 27 years. Jorgensen has never been so ebullient about Reno and its future. SBDC specializes in providing networks for entrepreneurs. For example, if someone wants to open a particular kind of business, he looks for people who have already done that and some of the programs that can assist them in their endeavor. Resources are aplenty here, but Jorgensen shares, “Venture capital and angel funding is something Reno will always be short on. We are not Silicon Valley. We’re never going to be. However, we are becoming more advanced as far as access to capital.”
Jorgensen praises the relationships between all of the entrepreneurial resources for start-ups. He encourages new and existing businesses to get involved with EDAWN, SCORE, Entrepreneurs Assembly (EA), Entrepreneurship Nevada, Summit Venture Monitoring Service (Summit VMS), NCET, Startup Weekend Reno, One Million Cups, StartUp NV, the Innevation Center and many other resources that are often free for the asking. Jorgensen notes how all these organizations work together. The philosophy is always client first. He notes how in some regions of the country, SCORE and SBDC don’t even talk to each other because they are fighting over the same clients. That’s not the case in Reno.
Summit VMS is a unique free mentoring opportunity based on a successful program developed at MIT. There are currently 35-50 high level mentors in the program here in Reno who hail from a deep variety of work backgrounds and life experiences. They are currently mentoring about 15-20 businesses in the local area. If accepted into the program, up to four mentors are assigned to the entrepreneur. Monthly meetings keep businesses on track and accountable.
The Entrepreneurs Assembly (EA) is another resource for start-ups. In 2010, Matt Westfield and Rod Hosilyk formed EA as a non-profit to help Nevada recover from the Great Recession by promoting job growth through entrepreneurial ventures. EA’s big push was to build great partnerships throughout the community by mentoring entrepreneurs. Westfield shared, “We’ve mentored over a thousand startups. Entrepreneurship is not a job, a goal nor a profession. It’s a mentality of problem solving. Originally, we thought mentors would only be providing those solutions but then we started putting new entrepreneurs in a room together without mentors to start putting those puzzle pieces together to solve problems. We’d put newbie entrepreneurs in who often don’t believe they have anything to add to the entrepreneurial conversation. And suddenly, they discover they have solutions to share too. They are now empowered and part of the solution. EA’s philosophy is let’s get together and help each other overcome whatever challenges we’re facing. And interestingly enough, it rarely involves money.”
Bryan McArdle, Manager of Entrepreneurial Development at EDAWN, is passionate about supporting start-ups and any kind of events that can empower entrepreneurs. TedX Reno, Ignite and Startup weekends are great examples. “StartUp Weekend is a 54 hour event that anyone with an idea can show up at. It’s like getting a minor in entrepreneurship. Events like these allow everyone to communicate and collaborate. And if you do that enough, it starts generating ideas and activity and everything else that goes along with it,” said McArdle.
These resources appeal to businesses that have recently located here. Take Wes King for example.
Wes King, founder of Tahoe Trail Bar, a gluten free energy bar, echoes those sentiments. He took the company over in 2010 from two women who were making the bars in a coffee shop. Those first few years in South Lake Tahoe he was spinning his wheels and didn’t make any money. He chose to move to Reno because they were having logistical problems with the snow in the winter up at Tahoe. That proved to be a good move.
According to King, “We made more money in the first week of July 2017 than we did in the entire 2015.” After moving to Reno, he showed up on Saturday morning at Entrepreneurs Assembly. “I met organizers Matt Westfield and John Moran. I got paired off with a couple of mentors who ended up being really smart individuals and they helped me build my first cash flow models and projections. I then started with Summit VMS. The bar was continually being raised for something much bigger. Because of these relationships, I rebranded my company. We have been rewarded with revenue growth and are now part of an ecosystem that has given us the tools to provide us with even further growth. EDAWN was always able to offer higher and higher level of resources for us including Shyla Pheasant organizing our launch party at Mill Street Brewery,” said King.
Matthew Navarro, head of operations at Group Gets, a company that empowers users to securely join or organize group buys for any existing product, just arrived in Reno. Navarro enjoys the small town feel of Reno and the networking opportunities. “Reno is a new and emerging community and we like the connection with UNR. Touring the Innevation Center kind of swayed our decision to move to Reno,” said Navarro. Group Gets is now located at the Innevation Center. A neighbor of Group Gets is Capstak.
Capstak, a kind of match.com in the corporate commercial real estate market, recently relocated their headquarters from New York to Reno. Heather Goldman, president and co-founder of Capstak states, “We talk a lot about the cost structure being so much more favorable here in Reno than the Bay Area or in New York which is true but you’re never going to want to compromise the quality of the work. You don’t have to do that here. Start-ups are always trying to figure out a way to bring a service or product to market economically without compromising quality outside of the gateway cities, if you will. I think we’re starting to see this emergence of entrepreneurism in markets away from the coasts in part because of this dynamic. For us, that was a critical part of our moving here from New York.”
In addition, Goldman appreciates the community and the cultural services found in Reno. “I find the community here really open and supportive. We’re building companies that have national appeal and national platforms. These aren’t just small businesses or small ideas. These are people with big ideas and big ambitions who don’t want to spend two hours on the subway every day,” said Goldman.
The Next Austin, TX?
Jeff Saling is the co-founder of Buzz Tools, a hot start-up that takes traditional off-line business networking to social media. It allows groups of strategically allied individuals and organizations to promote one another on social media using a simple tool. In addition to looking forward to having a successful start-up, Saling believes Reno is one of the best locations for businesses and he looks forward to growing his business here.
Saling compared what is happening now in Reno/Tahoe to one of the nation’s hottest start-up cities, Austin, TX, which is often referred to as Silicon Valley’s second city. “Austin has a unique combination of the university, art (music) and a tech community that works beside it. People started leaving Silicon Valley for Austin when they realized there were things they could do outside of work that made life more pleasant. Plus, everyone liked the cost of doing business and the lower cost of living. Even though people made less money, they were willing to do business in Austin to have a better life,” said Saling.
According to Saling, “The Reno/Tahoe area has everything it takes to make this the next phenomenal place. We already know it’s phenomenal but others are starting to see it now. We have that dynamic between the university, business community, tech engineering and a great arts community that comes along with it. It’s a good combination and there are nice physical activities that you can go to and do. We have it all in Spades here.”
Back to that Deck of Cards
Everyone featured in the deck is a super connector. They are chosen based upon what their role in the community is. According to Startup 2.0 creator, Doug Erwin, “The real impetus of the deck is help people navigate the local entrepreneurial ecosystem and quickly connect with key people in it. The ecosystem is diverse and it has lots of different elements to it but one of the things that it runs on are these core values.” The core values are:
- Break rules & dream
- Open doors & listen
- Trust & be trusted
- Seek fairness, not advantage
- Err, fail & persist
- Pay it forward
Erwin got the idea for the card deck when he was attending a conference in Boulder, CO. He walked into a co-working space and their Wi-Fi password was pay it forward. That’s when he determined that Reno needed some kind of tool that would help communicate the assets in the community and reinforce the core values. Those core values are listed as rules in the deck. Erwin sees them as a strong foundation for the start-up community. The cards are also a functional tool to help new people quickly curate the environment. Erwin shares, “If you are an entrepreneur there are about a million different choices of where you can go. We help them understand what’s available and then help them decide who are the first few people they want to connect with and the first few things they want to do.” He joked that you can also play solitaire because it’s a functional card deck plus it’s a hit at trade shows when they use the cards to play blackjack which tends to draw a lot of attention.
The cards seem to be drawing Reno to more of a royal flush status. “People have a perception of Reno, it’s getting better, maybe it’s neutral or negative, but when they get something like this deck of cards that is creative, well designed and well thought out their first impression of Reno is not what they expected,” said Erwin.
The decks can be purchased at renostartupdeck.com and the revenues directly support many of the programs and events listed within the deck.