What Makes VegasTech Unique

Entrepreneurial community expert Brad Feld recently asked entrepreneurs around the world to submit a 500 to 1000 word essay to him on what makes your entrepreneurial community unique. Working with a few other local VegasTech members, I put together the following draft. (Once finalized, I’ll update this post.)

Thanks to David Gosse, Jennifer Gosse, Mike Manzano, Shaun Swanson, and Mark Johnson for input. If you like it, thank them. If you don’t, blame me.

A Brief History of VegasTech, aka 10 months is 5 years (with apologies to Stephen Hawking)

In April, 2011, 12 people gathered at The Beat Coffeehouse in downtown Las Vegas, attending the first Las Vegas Jelly, a casual co-working session. Designed to bring together the technical / startup / entrepreneurial minds in Las Vegas, it began modestly. Just four short months later, attendance regularly topped 150, including 70 gathered in a room designed to hold maybe 30, to hear local startups practice their pitches.

Since the beginning of 2011, a loosely-knit community of DOers have combined and collaborated to bring the following to Las Vegas:

  • Startup Weekend (June and November)
  • Las Vegas Jelly (weekly)
  • Ignite (quarterly)
  • Delivering Happiness Inspire (quarterly)
  • /usr/lib (a tech library / co-working lite space open daily)
  • Ruby Users Group (weekly [note: pre-dated VegasTech, but stronger now])
  • Mobile Monday (monthly)
  • LaunchUp (monthly)
  • LV Night Owls (irregularly scheduled)
  • vegasstartups.com
  • VegasTech.com

Though there are a number of individuals responsible for the success of the community, ask anyone and one name will be mentioned as the instigator of this movement: Shavonnah Tiera. Shavonnah attended a Startup Weekend in late 2010 and wanted to bring that to her hometown of Las Vegas. Undaunted by the then lack of a tech community, she forged ahead and found people to help, sponsors to sponsor, and a venue. The first Startup Weekend Las Vegas in June would prove to be a critical juncture in Vegas tech history. Well-attended (the event sold out) it proved that great ideas and execution could come from the locals. There was a tech community in Las Vegas, and the people in it had finally found each other.

As these events were forming, discussions between the various organizers started about how to coordinate efforts and bring things together under a single umbrella. The initial intent was simple: make sure events didn’t collide and split up the community. After some discussion, a decision to use the web site VegasTech.com was made; #VegasTech had already been in use as a Twitter hashtag for some time, and there was a lot of momentum behind the name.

The Jelly remains the key event and speaks to the vibrant VegasTech community. Each week, 25% of attendees are new faces. Another 25% attend semi-regularly, and the other 50% are diehard regulars. So the community is clearly still growing. And all of this came via a dedicated set of volunteers. Not one of the efforts thus far has been paid — it has all been done in the spirit of giving: from building the VegasTech.com web site, to providing experienced mentors to newly formed startups, to planning and executing a social media strategy.

During this time, some 20 community leaders have emerged to drive the various events above. More have asked how they can help.

Unique Characteristics of VegasTech

And now, very much patterned after one view of Boston’s tech community (http://greenhornconnect.com/blog/bostons-startup-identity-embracing-who-we-are) VegasTech:

  1. We’re giving. Our community started from giving and that will always be an underlying strength.
  2. We work 24/7 like our city. From late hours at /usr/lib to the Night Owls group, there’s something going on late night quite frequently.
  3. We’re very casual and informal. Just as you can go to most of the best restaurants in Las Vegas in fairly casual clothing, we embody that by not having a lot of process or structure around our events. Want to come to the Jelly and talk about something? Just do it. Want to put on a new event? Likewise. There’s no master committee to answer to.
  4. We mix business and pleasure more than is usual. Business meeting over your sixth beer at 2:30 in the morning? Sure.
  5. Our entrepreneurs are natural gamblers. We are risk takers. We push the envelope.
  6. We have a sense of humor that makes it all worth it.
  7. We do. Also known as JFDI. We don’t wait around and have a bunch of committee meetings.
  8. We’re open to learning from other cities and intentionally bring in the best minds from other places.
  9. We’re very adept at social media. In fact, our community probably wouldn’t have formed without it. We network on it, we share tips on it, and we always tweet with the hashtag #VegasTech so everyone knows what’s going on.
  10. We share and help each other. We support each other’s ideas and companies for the overall benefit of the community. If one wins we all win. When a new site or app is announced, we ask “How can we help?” and “Can I get a beta invite on TestFlight?”. This applies both within the direct tech community as well as with our supporters. Our downtown venues where we hang out support us as well.

Things we could do better

  1. Integrate new leaders into the community.
  2. Respond more effectively to offers of help.
  3. Give structure to those who prefer structure.
  4. Ensure adequate supply for funding for deserving companies.
  5. Founder speed dating.

Posted by Rick Duggan — rick -at- vegasstartups.com