Las Vegas Sun

July 25, 2021

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Tough economic times bring out entrepreneurial spirit

Jeff Saling

Christopher DeVargas

Jeff Saling is co-founder and executive director of StartUpNV.

It’s sometimes the jolt of difficult economic times that lead people to make a career change.

A bad economy can lead to innovation and investment in promising ideas, said Jeff Saling, co-founder and executive director of StartUpNV, a nonprofit business incubator.

“Generally, when the economy slows down and people don’t have the options they once had for traditional jobs, they start things,” he said.

“Back in 2008 and 2009, a lot of really interesting startups came into being,” Saling said. “Many, like Uber and Lyft, are big brands today. It’s a good time for creativity to come out.”

Nevada, which is reliant on the hard-hit travel and tourism sectors, has seen its economy decimated by the coronavirus pandemic, with unemployment just over 21%.

While coming up with the next Uber is a long shot, interest and activity within the entrepreneurial community in Nevada is on the upswing, Saling said.

“We’re seeing more people try more things,” Saling said. “Since around the end of May and into June, activity has ramped back up. People are interested in pitching again. I think that will continue to trend higher.”

AngelNV, a spinoff of StartUpNV, recently began accepting registrations for a free four-month boot camp aimed at providing mentorships and information for startups and those interested in investing. Often referred to as angels, early-stage investors are typically wealthy individuals who have money to play with and plenty of time to wait for companies to develop.

The boot camp, which starts Sept. 8, meets weekly through December at the International Innovation Center in downtown Las Vegas. Participants can also attend remotely.

Saling said about 170 people have signed up for either the boot camp or an informational Zoom session on Tuesday. Another 50 or so investors have inquired about the camp, Saling said.

Along with connecting entrepreneurs and investors, the boot camp is designed to show people how to best present an idea to attract capital.

“When somebody has an idea for a startup that maybe they’ve been thinking about for a while, they’re pretty excited about it,” Saling said. “We have a lot of resources that can help move that idea to the next stage. If people are interested in attracting investment, they’re going to need to do more than just have the idea. There are some executional steps that they have to take to demonstrate that there’s life to that idea.”

At least one company from the boot camp will receive a $200,000 investment from AngelNV venture capitalists, Saling said.

While the boot camp is free, those wanting to be considered for the $200,000 investment must pay a fee of $149. The money will go to at least one of six finalist companies and will be announced during a "Shark Tank"-style event in March.

“People watch "Shark Tank" and it seems like people can pitch to Mark Cuban or Barbara Corcoran and they’ll just invest in you. But there’s a lot that goes on that you don’t see,” Saling said. “Those things that happen behind the scenes, that’s what we’re going to try to expose through AngelNV to the (company) founders so they know what to expect.”

A former Miss Nevada, entrepreneur Lisa Song Sutton, who recently joined StartUpNV’s advisory board, said now is the time to turn a business idea into a business.

Sutton, an attorney, has created several companies during the past decade, including Sin City Cupcakes, which she started in 2012.

“The entrepreneurs I’ve talked to are optimistic, which is probably an entrepreneurial trait anyway,” Sutton said. “We’re in an unpredictable time and, unfortunately, many have lost jobs. People are thinking this is the time to innovate because their backs are against the wall.

“I think we’re going to keep seeing creativity and innovation. Sometimes, you take the leap when you’re forced to,” said Sutton, a mentor for StartUpNV for several years.

Chip Rowe, a Henderson resident and the founder of a cloud-based information-sharing system for senior care facilities called Care Share Manager, is a veteran of the StartUpNV ecosystem.

After pitching his idea for Care Share — now a seed-stage company — last year at a StartUpNV conference, Rowe received a $50,000 investment from angel investor Mark Brennan, CEO of a local firm called Brennan Capital Partners.

“StartUpNV has really helped me, for example, to hone my pitch,” Rowe said. “I can give my pitch now in 10 minutes and it tells a pretty good story about who we are, what we’ve done, what the size is of our marketplace and what it is that we’re looking for. That mentorship, along with teaching me about the financial side, it’s helped a lot.”

Since it began in 2017, StartUpNV has accepted nearly 50 Nevada-based companies to its incubator program. While over $36 million has been raised for those companies, more than 99% of the funding has come from outside Nevada.

A goal of the AngelNV program is to attract more in-state money.

“There’s a lot of potential investors in Las Vegas,” Saling said. “There’s wealth in the valley, but accredited investors in Las Vegas have chosen to not be angel investors, or they don’t know how to be one. The whole point of the AngelNV program is to attract people who are capable of being angels and doing it well. There is a science to it.”

For more information about the AngelNV boot camp or on StartUpNV, go online to startupnv.org.