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April 24, 2014

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Joe Downtown: Crowdfunded Vegas Tech House to offer lodging for techies in transition

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Joe Schoenmann

Jon Sterling wants to open Vegas Tech House – his name for the crowdsource-funded house that would be open to startup founders who make their way to Downtown Las Vegas.

Hoping to add to downtown’s tech startup ecosystem, Jon Sterling wants to buy a house downtown for startup founders as they transition into Las Vegas.

To do that, the 34-year-old startup founder and former real estate businessman is doing something he’s never seen: He’s giving himself a month to raise $125,000 in small donations, branding opportunities and other means.

Sterling, whose career to date has largely been as a hired gun to “launch real estate brokerages when the market was hot and fix them when the market collapsed,” moved here a month ago from San Francisco.

“The tech scene here is more interesting,” he said. “It’s a different type of entrepreneur – young, scrappy and they don’t mind rolling up their sleeves and doing work. In San Francisco there’s too much focus on the tech-famous – mini-celebrities because they raised money or launched something. You’re in Vegas because you’re interested in a problem, in the community and you want to do work.”

Sterling left real estate in 2010, moved to Silicon Valley and was part of a group that churned out real-time real estate analysis.

He launched an app two months ago called Agent Finder, which is the first in a suite of tools he describes as a sort of “eHarmony for professional services,” matching consumers with professionals based on variables such as behavioral and personality analysis, and social graphs, which refers to relationships between Internet users.

The idea for Vegas Tech House – his name for the crowdsource-funded house – stemmed from two desires: to taunt his critical friends in San Francisco and to be part of the downtown community.

“My friends back in San Francisco will pay thousands per month to rent something, when you can build a business here, rent or buy a home and hire quality people for much less,” he said.

In the long term, Sterling envisions Tech house as becoming a co-working space and transitional home for techies moving here. With a two- or three-bedroom home, one or two people would live there all the time and would need to be fine with the idea of different people staying there for short periods of time.

He hopes to find a place in or near the John S. Park neighborhood, where a so-called “startup block” grew spontaneously in recent months near Sixth Street and Franklin Avenue.

Sterling has set up a website on indiegogo.com that outlines different contribution amounts. For $15, for instance, the donor’s name will be listed on Vegas Tech House’s website, the donor’s website will be listed (if he or she has one), “and you will be able to claim bragging rights as an early adopter or whatever you want to call yourself,” the website says.

Ten different donation levels offer different rewards, with more offered for larger donations.

A $75 donation will give donors entry into weekend-long Hackathon (a contest to create the best app) that will be judged by investors.

A $10,000 donor, for example, will be able to decorate one common room with a company name, logo and marketing material, plus a helicopter ride and more. A $25,000 donor will get to display a company brand throughout the house, including full decoration of one common room, a plaque on the front door and sponsor a Tech House launch party in August.

With 28 days to go, Sterling has raised $305, according to the site. Companies have been expressing interest in sponsorships, he added.

“At this point, it’s more than just a house,” Sterling said, noting that people who live there and visit will contribute to and help each other.

“I believe Las Vegas is the place to be, downtown is the place to be. And if we can do this with a house, imagine how we will be able to help your business.”

Joe Schoenmann doesn’t just cover downtown, he lives and works there. Schoenmann is Greenspun Media Group’s embedded downtown journalist, working from an office in the Emergency Arts building.

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