NCET, turning 20 this year, has greatly evolved since its TechAlliance roots
March 19, 2019
RENO, Nev. — Twenty years ago, the big story in technology in Reno was iGo Corp., a publicly held distributor of accessories for mobile devices.
A small group of business leaders — including iGo CEO Ken Hawk — thought iGo's success hinted that Northern Nevada might have the potential to draw more technology companies. But they knew the region first needed to get its ducks in a row.
What a row of ducks!
Those informal early meetings began laying the groundwork for technology developments ranging from Tesla's Gigafactory to the dozens of little tech companies that flourish in co-working spaces and coffee houses across the region.
And the structure created by those visionary leaders — today known as NCET — has grown into an organization 600 members strong that's the largest educational and networking organization in Northern Nevada.
As NCET celebrates its anniversary this year, business leaders credit the organization with establishing the foundation for today's burgeoning tech sector in northern Nevada.
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The nonprofit originally known as TechAlliance — the name was changed to NCET in 2003 — was incubated within the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada.
Michael Thomas, its first executive director in 1999 and now chief marketing officer and a partner at Noble Studios, recalls a seemingly endless to-do list with the startup organization.
"It was about creating the network for mentoring, early-stage seed funding, creating educational programs at the university and community college level, creating an entrepreneurial mindset for the region to support new ventures, and educating the community about the infrastructure needed (buildings, broadband, education, etc.) to support the growth of a tech industry," Thomas says.
One of its earliest initiatives was "Cocktails.com," a wildly popular networking event that got technology folks talking with one another.
That proved to be a powerful stimulus to the tech sector, says Chuck Alvey, who was president and CEO of EDAWN when TechAlliance launched.
"TechAlliance created a momentum and drew those interested in tech like a very strong magnet, synthesizing scattered activities into a singular, collaborative effort," Alvey says.
The group also sponsored venture-capital conferences that showcased northern Nevada companies, recruited tech companies and entrepreneurs to locate in the region, and created a college business-plan competition that awarded more than $1 million in prizes to teams of entrepreneurial collegians. (Some companies created by those collegians have grown into thriving enterprises.)
NCET sharpened its focus on educational and networking events after Dave Archer was named its top executive in 2006.
Under his leadership, NCET became a member-funded, stand-alone nonprofit; launched the successful NCET Small Business Expo; and created the NCET Tech Awards that recognize outstanding technology companies, both large and small, as well as the people and companies that provide support to the tech sector.
And Archer, an award-winning marketer, encouraged adoption of the "NCET" name to replace "Nevada's Center for Entrepreneurship & Technology."
The old name was unwieldy, Archer says, and didn't accurately describe the group, which isn't state-funded, doesn't have a brick-and-mortar center, and focuses on small business rather than high-tech engineers.
Along with its major annual events, NCET produces a multitude of educational sessions and networking events — about 40 of them a year — and publishes a bi-weekly newsletter that's distributed statewide along with other media materials.
Its educational sessions provide useful tips to help business owners and managers do their jobs better. NCET also provides regular behind-the-scenes tours of top local companies.
Remarkably, NCET relies almost entirely on its unpaid, 30-member board of directors to deliver its events and materials.
"NCET's working board is as good — or better — than any paid staff I've ever encountered," says Archer.
The value of NCET's networking events can't be underestimated as a driver of a strong business environment, says Fritz Battcher, a partner in the law firm at Holland & Hart, a longtime corporate member of NCET, who works closely with emerging growth companies.
"NCET provides the connections and the activities that keep the business community together and coordinated," Battcher says. "It has been a consistent part of the entrepreneurial community for 20 years now, and that experience and constant presence allows businesses and owners to connect with others."
Abbi Whitaker is co-founder and president of The Abbi Agency.