In December 2011, Frederick Cook and Kelly Eidson co-founded a business that aims to make moving one’s office or home a seamless, problem-free process. Using its proprietary technology, this Las Vegas firm acts as the intermediary between people who need moving services—truck rentals, full-service movers, pods, freight trailers and more—and the companies that provide those. Using the Moveline app, customers take video of their belongings, eliminating strangers inventorying your belongings at your business or residence. Moveline representatives then discuss with clients any special needs or information and provide them with moving options, each with a guaranteed quote. Once a customer chooses one, Moveline subcontracts that job to the chosen company.
“Because of the interface between the moving company and the customer, both are looking at the same information,” Cook said. “That is a huge step forward for how the industry works.”
This start-up represents just one component of the Silver State’s technology sector, a young but burgeoning industry segment. Another major part of the sector constitutes large, established companies, such as IGT, a gaming machines manufacturer in the North and Switch, a data center in the South. The aggregate of these corporations makes Nevada’s major population regions technology hubs. Additionally, technology firms continue to move to the state which is increasingly becoming known as a haven for tech business.
“A lot of these companies, especially software companies, can literally go anywhere in the world. [They come here] for the combination of the favorable business environment and the quality of life. In both the North and the South, the people here are so welcoming,” said Dave Archer, president/CEO of the Nevada Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology (NCET), a Reno-based, member-supported, non-profit organization that produces business and technology events to help small businesses and entrepreneurs.
Moveline, for instance, relocated to Las Vegas from New York City in 2013 to take advantage of the city’s focus on customer service and hospitality and its existing workforce in those areas. The start-up now has more than 110 employees.
“There’s a unique opportunity in Las Vegas to not build out a Silicon Valley in downtown but build out a ‘Service Valley’,” Cook said.
Wealth of Choices
A major technological trend today is mobility, a bevy of technologies that not only allow us to connect to others and the Internet anywhere, anytime but also provide various alternatives for doing so.
“Mobility allows organizations, small or big, to take advantage of offering customers choices and doing direct target marketing to customers,” said Derrick Hill, vice president of the business and hospitality network at Cox Communications—Las Vegas. Cox Business provides video, Internet, data, Wi-Fi and voice services via cable to commercial customers. Its hospitality network provides digital cable and interactive TV services as well as wireless data services to resorts and hotels.
To capitalize on the mobility trend, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA), for example, is upgrading the convention center’s Internet service with a 3G/4G cellular distributed antenna system, an additional 1,000-plus Wi-Fi access points and more. The changes would provide the LVCVA with data about what guests are doing and where and allow it to develop and offer location-based services. For instance, if a trade show visitor is passing a particular vendor’s booth, the agency could text the visitor information about goings on or offerings at that spot. All of these aspects would help the agency deliver enhanced services to exhibitors and convention/conference attendees.
Pinpointing the Best Match
With technological advances happening so quickly, a challenge for all companies is to stay up to date on what’s available, choose what best suits their needs and keep their customers informed about their related offerings. For Cox, it requires a dual approach. It needs to anticipate how its customers’ technological needs may change and then provide the technology to accommodate those. And it must explain to them what products and services it makes available and how those can best benefit those users. To do this, it employs online webinars, marketplace customer events, direct mail and in-person education by sales representatives.
“The focus here is really based on improving the customer experience and enabling customers to utilize our technology to accomplish their goals,” Hill said.
Newer Cox offerings include management of routers including installation, configuration and monitoring; burstable Cox optical Internet, greater bandwidth only when customers need it; and colocation services, help with uploading data to a secure environment.
Data Mining, Analysis
One way companies learn about and provide tailored experiences to their customers is via information they collect about them.
“You have software available that makes that so easy to do,” Archer said. “Now, you can data mine and do data analysis easily.
Rolltech is a Las Vegas start-up whose business is based on data collection. However, rather than horde the data, this company releases it to its customers. Launched in July 2011, Rolltech culls and provides cumulative scores, statistics and performance analysis to bowlers in real time, which they can access via mobile device or Rolltech’s website. The technology also contains a platform for bowling centers, which allows them to gather data on and communicate with their customers. Centers also can offer real-time deals to their customers via this portal. Further, Rolltech gamified the experience for bowlers, allowing them to earn points for what they do on the lanes (beat their average, get three strikes in a row, etc.), which are redeemable at the center for food, drinks, games or gear.
“We’ve created new technology for the sport that has never been seen before,” said Rich Belsky, Rolltech’s founder and CEO and an avid bowler.
The business provides the technology for free to bowling centers. It offers bowlers a free scaled-down version of its software or a full-feature version for a $5 per month subscription. Bowlers can use the software at any bowling alley equipped with Rolltech’s technology, like Red Rock Lanes, Sunset Station’s Strike Zone Bowling Center and South Point Bowling Center in Southern Nevada as well as centers in seven other states.
Growing Bandwidth Demand
With the increasing capabilities that technology affords, such as streaming of movies, consumers need and want increasing amounts of bandwidth.
“If you look at the consumption of bandwidth, growth is astronomical,” Archer said. “For a cable TV company, a huge percentage of its traffic is people downloading Netflix.”
In Southern Nevada, Cox offers commercial Internet services in the form of Cox Business Internet—six tiers via coaxial and fiberoptic cable (from 5 to 150 Mbps downstreaming)—and Cox Optical Internet—numerous levels via fiberoptic cable only (from 1 Mbps up to 10+ Gbps).Additionally, of interest perhaps to those business executives who work at home, whether occasionally or frequently, Cox plans to roll out an optional 1 Gbps Internet service for select residences starting later this year.
Because consumers expect free Internet while on the go, hotels, restaurants, airlines and other businesses are having to provide it, Archer said. This can be challenging for them in terms of the amount of bandwidth needed (think hotels) and the cost.
Proliferation of Tech Start-ups
Nevada is home to increasing numbers of new technology businesses, particularly those developing software.
“The types of start-ups are all over the map,” Archer said. “Because the costs of software and hardware are so inexpensive, you’re only limited by your imagination.”
The state encourages these businesses growth and several funding sources, both private and public are available to them. Potential funding sources for new and existing tech firms include;
- Nevada Governor’s Office of Economic Development’s Battle Born Venture
- Silver State Opportunities Fund
- Reno Accelerator Fund
- Reno Angels
- Sierra Angels
- Vegas TechFund (VTF)
- Vegas Valley Angels
“The good news is the amounts of start-up money or types of start-up money today are so much more available than even five years ago,” Archer said.
Downtown Project in Las Vegas is not only funding tech start-ups through the Vegas TechFund but also fostering them to elevate the city as a renowned start-up hub, among other goals.
“It’s an ecosystem filled with as much opportunity as you’re willing to draw out of it,” said Belsky, whose firm, Rolltech, is a participant and VTF financing recipient. “It’s an incredible mixture of opportunity and idealists driving toward their dream. I wouldn’t be this far along if not for [Downtown Project],” Belsky added.
At the end of this last August, Downtown Project was invested in 79 tech companies, including Moveline and RecordSetter.
Corey Henderson and Dan Rollman started RecordSetter, an online database of global world records, six years ago in New York City. Two years ago, Henderson moved to Las Vegas as he wanted to be an early member of Downtown Project; Rollman relocated to Los Angeles.
“People in the community are really legitimately trying to help one another in a way I’ve never experienced anywhere else,” Henderson said. “Moving here has been able to extend our runway six months or more versus what we would have had being based in New York.”
As of mid-August, RecordSetter had more than 30,000 world records in its system. The start-up allows anyone in the world to pick an existing record or make one up (like largest beer-can house or highest backwards bowling score)—it has to be quantifiable—set or exceed the achieved quantity in it, upload the video capture of doing so and have it go live at RecordSetter.
The company also hosts world record contests for brands, which is how the company primarily generates revenue. For instance, in an event in collaboration with Hasbro Inc. for the launch of its newest Furby, RecordSetter captured world records for most Furbies driven through a car wash, most Furbies mentioned in a rap song and more.
Including monies from the VTF, RecordSetter’s owners raised about $2 million, mostly through angel investors. The company has six full-time and six part-time workers, its main challenge is managing growth.
“At this point, we have more inbound business than we can handle, which is a good problem to have,” Henderson said.
Another resource for tech start-ups in Southern Nevada is The inNEVation Center. The brainchild of Rob Roy, the founder and CEO of Switch, its purpose is to facilitate relationships between entrepreneurs, business leaders, mentors, investors, educators and the community. It’s home to regular events like Start-up Weekend, a catalyst for start-up creation and entrepreneur education.
Start-ups are no less prevalent in the Northern end of the state. For example, the Reno Accelerator Fund awarded Sierra Delectables a $20,000 loan to launch its flagship product, organic oyster mushrooms. This 2-year-old, gourmet organic and specialty health food provider has a joint venture with a Sacramento company that grows the mushrooms (they grow on trees), which Reno-based Sierra Delectables then sells to restaurant chefs in the Reno-Tahoe area. The goal, however, is for it eventually to open its own indoor farm in Reno and employ its partner’s expertise there. For that, the start-up is working on obtaining financing.
“We have this huge competitive advantage over anyone wanting to come in to the market as well. There’s this big barrier to entry for them,” said Valerie Cotta, president of Sierra Delectables, referring to the joint venture partner’s years of working with and improving its mushroom growing technology. Sierra Delectables’ other principals are Rudy Wiedemann, John Sheldon and Diane Daly.
Once the company penetrates the Northern Nevada restaurant market, its plan is to branch out to selling at farmers’ markets and then in grocery stores, first up North and, subsequently, in Southern Nevada. The second of its products would be a line of gluten-free grains.
The founders chose Nevada because it lacks a commercial mushroom farm but has a sizable demand for locally grown, specialty foods.
“Local chefs feel very connected to wanting access to really good gourmet specialty foods,” Cotta said. “They want Sierra Delectables to be successful so they can be successful.”
Another Reno tech start-up, Speed of Air Inc., applies its patented technology—textured surfaces and ceramic thermal coatings—to internal combustion engine components. Its intellectual property, created by partner Joe Malfa (six patents, in process or issued), is designed to reduce emissions up to 80 percent, decrease fuel consumption by about 8 percent and increase horsepower by 24 percent, together allowing an engine to operate more efficiently, in part by moving air faster (hence, the company name) and, thereby, extending its life.
“Because our technology is so unique and so different, we’re finding additional opportunities to add additional intellectual property,” said Eric Robinson, the start-up’s CEO and a co-founder.
In 2008, Malfa joined forces with Robinson and Mitch Wagner to shift the company from research and development to commercialization, its current phase. Among others, its initial customers are the Tahoe Transportation District and a large mining company. Speed of Air is now targeting companies with large vehicle fleets as well as re-manufacturers. When these companies want to rebuild vehicle engines, they can pay a license fee to get Speed of Air’s technology applied to the replacement components going into those refurbished items. Also, the start-up plans to license its technology to manufacturers that will incorporate it into the parts they make and sell.
To date, the partners have raised about $1.4 million among family and friends. It’s in the process of doing an “A series” funding round, hoping to garner about $1.5 million for sales/marketing, future development and patent registration
Robinson said they appreciate their Nevada location as it’s in a tax favorable state with a significant mining industry (one of Speed of Air’s target markets) and offers easy air, rail and highway access.
“I call Northern Nevada’s technology sector an emerging market,” Robinson added. “There are a lot of entrepreneurship in the area.”