Winning prize is easy part; real world application is hard
Students who win business-plan competitions in northern Nevada, Tim Casey says, find themselves at the edge of a cliff.
Once they’ve won recognition for their entrepreneurial spirit, they find there’s not much of a network to support them when they step off the edge into the real world of bringing a concept to reality.
“Being an entrepreneur doesn’t mean you have to figure it all out by yourself. Or at least, it shouldn’t,” says Casey, who established the Institute for Innovation and Informatics at the University of Nevada, Reno, before leaving the school last spring.
And so, even though Casey and business partner and wife, Jacquelyn Fuzell, are swamped with the work involved in their own start-up in Reno, they’re focusing a lot of attention on building an informal network of business people to support students and other budding entrepreneurs.
The couple’s business, SilverSky Group LLC, has signed on as co-sponsor of a business plan competition next spring at Truckee Meadows Community College and TMCC High School.
And they’re beating the bushes for business volunteers to act as judges and mentors and to provide financial support.
Fuzell and Casey hope that some of the volunteers will be sufficiently excited about the work that they’ll carry on as advisers to other students and other entrepreneurs.
Veterans of the venture-capital scene in Silicon Valley and northern Virginia, Casey and Fuzell say informal mentoring and support networks are hallmarks of thriving entrepreneurial communities.
“Unless the community embraces this and says that we want to make this a big deal, we’re missing out on something,” says Fuzell.
The couple’s vision extends beyond once-a-year contests for students. Fuzzell is nudging Washoe County School District leaders toward inclusion of more about entrepreneurship in its curriculum. Casey is supporting plans to create a business incubator maybe even a virtual incubator to nurture young companies. He also looks to link up experienced and retired executives in the region with entrepreneurs who need advice and a sounding board for their ideas.
SilverSky Group combines legal counsel on intellectual property the specialty of Casey during stints with big technology companies and law firms and with business consulting services that draw on Fuzell’s 20 years experience as an entrepreneur. They launched the four-employee firm last spring.
Still, the couple says they’re not expecting any direct payoff from their involvement with the TMCC business plan contest.
“We don’t expect any of these students will become clients of ours,” says Casey.
Adds Fuzell, “We’re instigators. Someone has to be brave enough to begin.”
In addition, Argentum Law, the sister law firm of communications firm Argentum Partners, recently welcomed attorney Stacie Truesdell Michaels to its Las Vegas office.