With the downturn in the economy during 2001, it would be reasonable to expect that a fledgling high-tech state like Nevada might be down for the count, but high-tech in Nevada is alive and kicking into gear. In Southern Nevada, known throughout the world primarily for gaming, the word is out that the Las Vegas Valley is going high-tech. TBAN – the Technology Business Alliance of Nevada – intends to foster the growth of high-tech businesses in Southern Nevada and build the necessary capital structure to support them, according to TBAN chairman Scott Frost. This two-part mission means giving unsophisticated start-up companies the tools they need to achieve success, in addition to creating a network of high-net-worth individuals interested in investing in high-tech companies.
TBAN represents the growing high-tech community in Las Vegas and serves start-up companies in technology areas such as Internet gaming, digital entertainment, e-commerce, encryption, Internet services and telecommunications. The vehicle it is using is a virtual accelerator founded by former technology executives. The accelerator brings together four components necessary to foster a technology community: affordable infrastructure, (telecommunications, power, transportation and professional services); access to capital, in the form of an investor network; education/corporate partnership to bring together university system institutions and start-ups; and community. The virtual accelerator will be an exclusive network of vendors, professional service companies and capital suppliers selected by TBAN.
Why a virtual network? Because TBAN wants to avoid over-exuberance and putting the cart before the horse, said Frost. Rather than getting a grant and then a facility and then clients to fill it, TBAN is looking to build professional services and vendor networks, and then solicit start-up companies of high quality.
One of the early supporters of TBAN’s virtual accelerator is Northern Nevada’s Fred Sibayan, who is engaged in creating an accelerator in Reno. Toward that goal, he has initiated three companies that complement each other: Sierra VisionLaunch Accelerator, Sierra VisionLaunch Ventures (the investment fund) and Sierra VisionLaunch Properties, which handles the physical side of the accelerator. A pilot accelerator program is up and running at Damonte Ranch in South Reno and Sibayan expects it to be filled soon with start-up companies.
Sibayan’s accelerator works much like TBAN’s in bringing together the necessary components to get a start-up company off the ground and heading toward its exit strategy. The accelerator is designed to infuse companies with capital and to provide mentoring, support and resources. “The key to the accelerator is to minimize risk for the investor and to maximize the investments in the companies and help them perform through mentorship and support,” said Sibayan, who expects within the year to be building a larger facility to house the accelerator, start-up companies and resources to support those companies. He speaks hopefully about Nevada’s economic future. “Diversifying the economy is something that people are taking more seriously today than a year ago, and unfortunately it’s because of the World Trade Center events. Resorts in Las Vegas laid off thousands of employees last fall, and all of a sudden people recognized the need to have other employment alternatives instead of being a service-type state dealing solely with casinos. While gaming is an important part of the economy, we need to diversify. [TBAN] is doing a great job of bringing awareness to Las Vegas and making it happen more quickly.”
In Northern Nevada, Sibayan would like to see more software technology and biotech companies coming in. He is involved with Sierra Nevada College and the University of Nevada, Reno, working to develop relationships between academia and the private sector. “There is an awareness of the tremendous opportunities coming out of both universities today,” said Sibayan. “We’re trying to come up with ideas on how to foster and generate these opportunities and take them to investors, help them develop a good plan to take these products and offer them to the public.”
Biotechnology is one university program that looks exciting to potential high-tech investors, and part of it is due to the statewide Biomedical Research Infrastructure Network (BRIN), coming soon as a result of a $6 million grant to the University and Community College System from the National Institutes of Health. The goal of BRIN will be to allow Nevada to build an effective research infrastructure to make the state more competitive in obtaining grants for multi-disciplinary research projects. BRIN will need to create the human and technological infrastructure and also focus on statewide communication and interdisciplinary collaborations. It will be structured into several core areas: administrative; bioinformatics; cytometry; cancer research; and training and faculty development. The key element connecting these areas is the integration of research and education. The university hopes to build a pipeline of biomedical researchers at every level in the state, with one end result being a technologically trained, competent workforce that will work as a magnet for attracting biotechnology industry and health science companies into Nevada.
Michael Thomas with TechAlliance@NewNevada believes it is crucial to watch the events unfolding throughout the university system. “We need to see Nevada take some giant steps forward in tech curricula and examine what we’re doing to achieve plans and goals for the area,” said Thomas. “If you compare us to some other technology hotbed, you will see we need a stronger focus on innovation and commercialization of the technology coming out of the university system statewide. That’s the type of innovation that creates jobs and companies and can legitimize Nevada as a tech state.”
One public/private partnership assisting in this effort was initiated by Nevada Ventures, LP, a Reno-based venture capital fund. The firm recently funded the Nevada Ventures Nanoscience Program, a research and development initiative based at the University of Nevada Reno. “UNR has an impressively deep and diverse research base,” said Robb Smith, co-founder of Nevada Ventures. “We want to make sure Nevada’s brightest high-school seniors are thrilled at the prospect of enrolling at Nevada universities because of their cutting-edge programs and opportunities.” Smith thinks Nevada is a prime location for high technology growth. “Traditionally, Nevada hasn’t been a magnet for high-tech firms, but that will change,” he said. “We want to establish a beachhead in a few sub-sectors of emerging technology markets, and we’ll soon reach a growth flashpoint.”
“Exciting things are happening within the university, such as the new nanotechnology program,” said Thomas. “Things are also happening with the development agencies. This puts a good kind of pressure on the educators and leaders in the state to make sure to continue to fund education and to find sources in the private sector to give the university the strength to attract not only companies, but also very talented individuals into the state.”
Even the events of September 11 figure into the equation, according to Thomas. “The way technological leaders are working in an advisory role and seeing what they can do [to combat terrorism], in terms of innovation I think it’s going to be like the shock the U.S. got when the Russians launched Sputnik – it will spur innovation for technology. I think it might jump-start technology in a way that wasn’t thought about before September 11.”
Once high-tech companies decide to locate in Nevada, they can look to a state-of-the-art business facility at Reno Tahoe Tech Center. The Class A office park expects to open in May at Double Diamond Professional Center, a 70-acre campus with approximately 850,000 square feet of office space. More than simply offering high-tech space, RTTC will offer a co-location data center for companies that require a secure, continuous on-line service. For a high-tech firm that would suffer incredible losses to reputation and finances if its Internet connection was compromised, a co-location data center provides redundant power to prevent disruptions. In addition, the center allows companies to locate their servers offsite in a totally secure environment, protected from fire, earthquake or vandalism. Hosting a server offsite in a secure facility with redundant equipment means companies can stay on-line 24/7, 365 days a year. Last year’s terrorist attacks may cause security-conscious companies to create something of a global trend toward co-location data services in the future.
In short, said Michael Thomas, the state made great strides in 2001 in addressing ways to enhance Nevada’s strengths to attract technology companies. It has also accepted the challenge of identifying and correcting its weaknesses and working together, north and south, to bring high-tech companies to our high-tech state.