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Viva Las Vegas Tech: A Startup City Blooms in the Desert

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As of next month, I will have lived (and loved) living in Las Vegas for eight years. It is a fabulous place to be. Part small town, part big city. Two million people who still think this is a small town and who will say hello to you while you wait in line at the supermarket.

Yet, while many of you have come here (and we thank you) enjoying our many fine hotels, amazing restaurants, donating money at your favorite gaming table, we have been experiencing one of the worst Las Vegas economies since its official creation in 1903.

This led many of us local Las Vegans to wonder how to change our fortunes. After all, we are a gambling town.

Not ones to just sit around, we try to figure out what we can do to change our future, bring back our lucky charm. And Vegas has taken its first big step toward turning that luck around with the new tech scene.

Vegas Technology – What a Difference a Year Makes.

“Watch out Silicon Valley: You have competition just next door. The Nevada desert -- Las Vegas in particular -- is becoming a popular landing spot for tech firms large and small”
– CNN June 13, 2012 (Nevada named top 7 state for technepreneurs)

Almost exactly a year ago four of us; David and Jennifer Gosse of Tracky.com, Shawn Rorick of Digital World Expo and myself sat together at a YardHouse to chat about the struggling Vegas economy, how we could help Vegas, and what we could do to help change Vegas fortunes.

With a 14 percent unemployment rate and the highest foreclosure rate in the country, we knew something had to give. Little did we know what was being born across our valley, at other tables, at the same moment – a grassroots movement commonly known now as #VegasTech.

#VegasTech?

vegastech-logoWe knew with our business friendly tax environment, low cost of living, quality of life, inexpensive housing, soon to be legalized online gaming industry, and the existing dependence on technology (plus the obvious synergy between work-life styles of the hospitality and technology industries) tech was the answer. But how?

We knew Vegas wasn't known for tech. In fact, people usually met the combined words Vegas and technology with a smirk or a noticeable grin. Yet, people forget most of Vegas is run on technology. From gaming machines, to sports books, to hotels, to shows – tech makes this city hum!

Yet we also knew technology was everywhere and nowhere. The Vegas technology sector was fragmented at best and so much of what was there was hidden underground.

How would we reach those people and what could do to bring those sectors together? How could we get these people to meet those people, because maybe if we could things could happen.

VegasJelly

vegasjelly-logoSoon after, we all went to our corners of Vegas to meet with influencers, innovators, and educators anyone we thought might play a part in this grassroots effort. As we reached out we found other parts of the grassroots movement had also begun and a place where people were gathering, the @VegasJelly.

The VegasJelly is a local co-working session that Zappos people and the Downtown Project had put together. A place where tech people could come together, meet, chat, dream, plan, and create.

Soon, the @VegasJelly soon became an activity hub for all things Vegas technology, fragmentation became cohesion and Vegas was on its way!

It wasn't long after the initial growth of the @VegasJelly came The Downtown Project, a revitalization project for the downtown area announced by Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh.

Vegas and the Downtown Project

Still in its infancy, The Downtown Project is Hsieh’s vision. It will have arts and technology living side by side to create an environment ripe for serendipitous events.

There will be co-working and musicians and artists. There will be an investment in quality of life, not just brick and mortar. And there will be technology. Technology and start-ups and a VegasTech Fund to get it all started.

Now this is where most people outside Las Vegas thought Vegas technology began and ended. Would it be enough?

Yet, there has been another sector in the new technology economy that isn't new at all. Like a flower before spring, it has been sitting there doing all its work hidden from the view of most, quietly humming along… until now…

Welcome the Switch SuperNap

switchlogoThe Switch SuperNAP is truly the Las Vegas game changer, the proverbial icing on the cake for Las Vegas technology.

Not new, but until now, by design not known. Switch is the world's largest and most powerful technology ecosystem.

Swtich clients include local and global alike – companies such as Ebay, Pixar, Joyent, HP, Cisco, Vmware, Nirvanix, Dell, EMC, Mozy, Hitachi, Fox, Sony, MGM, The Boyd Group, Wynn, Venetian, the list goes on and on. A data supercenter with over 150+ patents (and claims) on cooling and data center technologies alone, Switch is a technology revolution of its own.

Switch SuperNAP is the size of 11 football fields. NAP8 is currently under construction and will be bring the total of Switch's data storage to 2.2 million square feet. Switch boasts 100 percent uptime for 12 years now (yes 100 percent). And for those interested in data transmission, 4 milliseconds to Los Angeles; 6 to San Francisco.

While Switch currently only has 140 employees, more than 4,000 people are badged and employed by clients of the SuperNAP to work in the building and add to Nevada's economy. This will only continue to grow as the SuperNAP grows and adds data storage centers.

However, Switch is not only about bytes, clouds, and data.

Another feature of the SuperNAP are its people. Dressed in black and sporting an awesome avatar on their business card (yes they have their own illustrator and yes the Avatars are awesome), I have never met a person from Switch, whether an EVP or regular employee, who was not friendly, helpful and well just fun. They are active in all ways in what was our budding tech community.

Was? Yes was, because Las Vegas is no longer budding. We have bloomed.

No Longer a Bud, Now a Rose

launchup-logoLaunch Up Las Vegas took place July 11. Stewart Christensen started Launch Up Las Vegas last year. Part of larger group out of Utah, Launch Up’s goal is to create a community space where people could come together to “geek out” about all things technepreneur.

Launch Up Las Vegas, specifically, is an event that allows start-up companies to pitch their company to others in the community. During their pitch they can focus the community on what they might need –whether it is funding, programming, or another partner to get them to the next step.

Always a fun and inspiring event, this year’s Launch-Up was special in its own right.

While the first Launch-Up was held in one of our local casinos meeting rooms, this event, held almost a year from its first, was held at the Switch SuperNAP InNEVation Center. The InNEVation center was one specifically built with the Vegas Technology sector in mind.

What made it special was as I looked around the newly decorated presentation hall, I could see faces from all sectors of Vegas Tech. Suddenly I realized the event was a gathering not of a few people from one fragmented section of town or another, it was of people from all segments – all parts of Vegas Tech were represented. Our defrag was occurring before my eyes, the new InNEVation center held people from all the groups I had been in touch with so many times in many places over the last year.

We were all represented in one place.

Welcome InNEVation

innevation-logoThe InNEVation center represents what only a year ago, we only imagined might happen. Vegas Technology was now real.

The InNEVation Center – with its focus to boost and diversify Nevada’s economy and provide incubation, co-working, mentoring, networking, and funding – was now part of the foundation on which our new economy could be built.

All in one place. All at one time.

It was brick and mortar. It was not just a hope or a dream, a conversation over beers or coffee. You could touch it. You could see it. InNEVation made the ethereal tangible. Launch-up made it personal.

Never Bet Against the House

One thing I have learned in Las Vegas: never bet against the house or a Las Vegan. Though nascent, we have firmly landed.

Now it’s go time! From grassroots to launch, one year later, we are here!

But it does not stop here. This is just the start. Just this coming weekend InNEVation will be hosting Start-Up Weekend Las Vegas sponsored by the Kaufman Foundation: 58-hours of intense technepreneurship with a potential $500,000 on the other side.

So if you think New York, Seattle, or Silicon Valley is synonymous with technology and start-ups you better add one more to your list Vegas because Vegas Tech is here. We have proof.

You want to get above the noise? Vegas is where you want to be and remember CNN told you so.

Author Note: For anyone interested in learning more about Vegas Technology and Vegas Start-Ups Digital World Expo at the Mirage Sept. 27-29 features a start-up stage and exhibit space with local and national presenters.


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