Program aims to jumpstart Nevada upstarts

Have an idea for a business venture? A statewide competition is under way with a top prize of $100,000 to help you get started.The online effort was quietly launched in late October to jumpstart an upstart Nevada company and feed the state’s entrepreneurial spirit while setting new heights for economic diversity.It’s called Project Vesto, a competition announced via social media to coincide with Nevada Day, celebrated this year on Oct. 26.“We the people of Nevada launch Project Vesto, in Nevada, for Nevada, on Nevada Day, giving new life with our battle-born business rebirth,” the project’s website proclaimed.The idea is to give budding entrepreneurs a shot at $100,000 to take their business concept from the drawing board to reality. Half of the funding — $50,000 — is being provided by the Governor’s Office of Economic Development.“We’re looking for people with great ideas,” said Daniel Herr, program manager at Nevada Institute for Renewable Energy Commercialization, which is spearheading the competition under a contract with the governor’s economic development agency.Established as a nonprofit in 2007, NIREC helps fosters collaboration between academics, investors and entrepreneurs to bolster innovation and economic activity.“This is the first time anything like this in the state has ever been done,” said Nicola Kerslake, NIREC vice president.The competition is named after Vesto Slipher, a noted American astronomer and innovator who is “representative of the qualities needed by today’s entrepreneurs,” Herr said.The application deadline has been extended until Dec. 31. To be considered, brevity is a must.Contest rules call for a one-page business model canvas, detailing partners, activities, resources, propositions, customer relationships, customer segments, channels, cost structure and revenue streams. “Please note: If you turn in more than one page, you will automatically be disqualified,” the rules state.The idea must be for the establishment of a for-profit business to be based in Nevada, though the business can be a startup or early-stage venture, defined as a business that has not earned more than $1 million or received more than $100,000 of investment backing.Additionally, the concept cannot be primarily based on licensing, franchising or selling the product of another.Sometime early next year, applicants will be given five minutes to pitch their idea to a panel of five judges, made up of potential investors and venture capitalists. Ten finalists chosen after those “shark tank” sessions will then develop online marketing plans and solicit votes from the public, which will determine the overall winner.Kerslake said the format is designed to gauge potential success.“In order to have a successful startup, you need to be investable, you need to be popular enough to get customers and you need to be savvy enough to go out and get customers,” Kerslake said. “This is a pretty well established competition strategy.”The eventual winner won’t just get one big check all at once. Instead, the prize money will be parceled out — $25,000 after a winner is chosen; $25,000 after the entity is formed and licensed in the state; and $50,000 once benchmarks identified during the competition are achieved.“If you don’t appeal to your customers, you don’t have a chance,” Herr said. “So you have to figure that out.”In a state hard hit by the Great Recession and still struggling to rebound, Project Vesto backers are betting that given a chance and financial backing, Nevadans’ grit and tenacity will lead to brighter economic times.“This is Nevada money for Nevada people,” the project’s website reads. “This is us, pulling ourselves up; This is our own grunting hard work, our own get-it-done; our own micro-brewed, down-home, self-serving revival of Nevada business.“Investing in ourselves for ourselves.”


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