The Northern Nevada startup-business scene is booming. Various programs, both local and based around the world, help feed this ecosystem.

One of the best long-standing foreign programs, the Mandela Washington Fellowship, is an incredible six-week cohort run locally by our friends over at the Northern Nevada International Center (NNIC). Carina Black, the executive director of NNIC, has had me and other startup mentors from helping out for nearly 10 years now. We help them synthesize their business or NGO, understand how business in America works, and learn to build partnerships to drive their respective agendas back home. These 25 future African leaders who arrive each year in Reno are selected from about 50,000 who apply. They are men and women selected from all 54 of the African nations who have built or are building programs that change their communities—and often the world.

The next cohort, part of the Young African Leaders Initiative, a program by the U.S. State Department, arrives on June 21—and as always, I can’t wait to meet them. It is a favorite summer event for my 10-year-old twin daughters, who have grown up being around program. They have met real African kings and princesses, and have seen some of the most beautiful clothing you can imagine; it doesn’t get much better than that! Stay tuned for events this summer where you can meet the incredible young leaders who come to Reno every year to learn about the American way. They often make lifelong friends here, too.

Staying on the international scene, I just got back from two weeks in Poland, where I was working with startups and small/medium-sized enterprises. We also met with influential economic development officials around Poland regarding their technologies, and their wishes to do business in America. It’s part of a program started in 2017 under then-Gov. Brian Sandoval (now the president of the University of Nevada, Reno). He really wanted to open up Nevada for business to the whole world, not just California. He visited Poland with a delegation of officials and business leaders, and started the program that we now have. This program brings great jobs, new investments and tax dollars to Nevada.

In Warsaw, I was honored to judge 20 semi-finalist startups and select the Top 10. Representatives of these 10 will be in Northern Nevada June 2-10. We will host pitch sessions for the startups’ representatives in Reno and Las Vegas, and they will tour the university to check out lab resources and student talent. They will also meet potential partners and customers while launching their Nevada businesses and operations. Our foundational technologies, geographic proximity and favorable business attributes make Nevada an ideal launchpad for startup operations in diverse technologies, such as autonomous vehicle tech, gaming tech, engineering tech, battery tech, eco-tech, med-tech, and so on.

This program is also creating a conduit to keep smart kids in Nevada after college graduation. It’s geared toward business students at the university, meant for them to gain real-world experience (and pay) to help foreign entities with “boots on the ground.” The students get to help launch operations of a transnational company into U.S. markets while still in school. How cool it is for them to have a career before they even graduate; they are building the relationships with and trust of the foreign owners to be their first employee here in the United States. It’s close to launching a Nevada startup, but without the risk to the Nevadan. The program generates high-paying Nevada jobs, revenue, tax dollars and cool tech that gets launched right here in Nevada.

While in the tech-rich Lubelskie region of Poland (on the Ukrainian border), the vice-marshal (the equivalent of the lieutenant governor in Nevada) awarded us with Poland/Ukraine solidarity pins. This is the frontline region where the world saw the trains carrying refugees from Kyiv and elsewhere to Poland after the Russian invasion.

The program us geared toward business students at the university, meant for them to gain real-world experience (and pay) to help foreign entities with “boots on the ground.”

It was quite an honor—and incredibly emotional—to be there and speak with the folks on the front lines of the war to save democracy in Eastern Europe. I was invited by the vice marshal to visit Kyiv with him the next time I’m there. I will seriously consider it upon my return in late June. In the meantime, we will continue to help startups from his region gain traction in existing and new markets. Many of the startups in Lubelskie are Ukrainian-transplanted families and startups. These folks have been through hell, and the border towns in Poland are all on the frontline. This situation is tenuous at best—and things will get much worse if Ukraine loses their homeland. That’s a pretty scary premise for all Eastern European countries, and it should be to us, too.

We need to continue to find areas of hope and look to help groups of marginalized people, even if it’s just in some small way. We will look for those people, in Nevada and elsewhere, who can benefit from the passion, skills and tenacity that are the foundations of entrepreneurship here and around the world. 

On a separate note: Congratulations to the 12th Annual $50,000 Sontag Entrepreneurship Award Competition participants and finalists. It was a fantastic group of startups. Stay tuned for a focus on the Sontag competition and the Nevada startups they’ve produced over the years.

For more information on any of these topics or programs, email me at

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