“PitchFest,” putting homegrown Nevada startup businesses before potential investors, has launched in what organizers say is the first of many semiannual statewide events to show Nevada is viable for startups seeking funding as well as for those with the money.
The inaugural PitchFest 2018, held Thursday night in downtown Reno, was designed more to ignite attention than spawn immediate deals for the five startup businesses that pitched their products before two dozen investors. Organizers plan additional events this year in August and one in October in Las Vegas in conjunction with a business conference.
“We want to stimulate activity, show there are viable homegrown startups as well as homegrown investors in Nevada,” said Bryan McArdle, vice president, entrepreneurial development at the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada, chief sponsor of PitchFest.
EDAWN is using a three-year $300,000 federal Department of Commerce grant to hold PitchFest events – “deal forums,” as McArdle described them – ideally at both ends of the state.
McArdle said the aim is to boost Nevada’s presence on the startup business map, where early-stage investment funding tips heavily on well-known coastal locales.
He cited a Kauffman Foundation and Village Capital report showing 80 percent of venture capital going to California’s Silicon Valley and the New York City and Boston areas, with the other 47 states splitting the remaining 20 percent.
“That’s why Reno is so focused on activating our ecosystem to increase the size of the pie,” he said.
Las Vegas angel investor Rahul Harkawat, who attended Thursday’s event, said he sees PitchFest as a truly all-Nevada venture, not a north- or south-focused effort.
“This is a first. Our goal is to make Nevada the No. 1 startup ecosystem in the U.S.,” Harkawat said, citing the Las Vegas area’s rapid growth in business. “We have to get away from divides and be collaborative to make it work. There is support for funding (startups) inside Nevada, north and south, that has not been known before.”
Harkawat is a member of Entrepreneurs Assembly Nevada, a nonprofit network of mentor-based groups whose goal is to promote entrepreneurship. EA Nevada is assisting in PitchFest, and founder Matt Westfield of Reno said the goal is to show the investor world that Nevada, not just the Silicon Valley and other well-known hubs of entrepreneurship, has what it takes for their money.
Westfield pointed to Thursday night’s PitchFest presenters, all locally based, who were given five minutes each to describe their businesses as they seek varying amounts of early financing for marketing, staff and other needs to grow.
- Rehearsal. Launched by Reno entrepreneur Darik Volpa, Rehearsal, with a staff of 15, provides online software platforms for businesses to help improve sales, leadership and customer service.
- Clickbio. CEO Mykle Gaynor’s company provides plastic parts for labware devices and has sold its products to such name brands as Pfizer and Bayer. He said Clickbio’s manufacturing, now done in Sacramento, will soon be moved to Reno.
- SimpleSense. COO Eric Kanagy said his company offers sensors for commercial buildings, schools and other structures which can alert firefighters and other first responders to where people inside those buildings are, thereby reducing search time.
- TrenLot. CEO Greg Howard said his company, being rebranded as Crewbuilder, offers software for construction contractors that streamlines labor management and reduces time wasted on paperwork.
- LuDela. CEO Jamie Bianchini outlined LuDela’s product, an array of real-flame “smart” candles that can be lit and extinguished remotely by switch and, to address the danger of fire, automatically extinguish if tipped over.
Bill O’Driscoll is a Reno-based freelance writer.