Greetings from Warsaw, Poland. As I sit here in my hotel room—sick as a dog and tripping on sinus meds that I cannot pronounce—Russia seems to be imploding just east of here.

I’m like Forrest Gump. I was here when Putin invaded Ukraine last year. I was here when COVID-19 shut down the world and almost stranded me … and now this. Pretty crazy, indeed.

Anyway, while I was here in March, I was invited by the marshal (the equivalent of our state governor) of the Lubelskie region to visit Kyiv with him on this trip. Due to our work with startups here, he awarded my business partners and me with pins showing solidarity between Poland and Ukraine. It was quite an honor. He is in the region that accepted trains full of 2 million refugees from Ukraine last year. He is literally on the front line of the war for freedom in eastern Europe. However, I did not accept the offer to take the train into Kyiv—and as of this writing, it was a good decision. I know my wife and 10-year-old twins are glad, too.

Back in Reno, we have been hosting many startups from Poland to learn the U.S. startup culture of fail and repeat. We’ve been embedded in the Polish startup community for five years now, which is hard to believe. It has been an incredible journey, and we’ve made lifelong friends along the way.

Reno is now recognized as one of the hottest startup cities in the U.S.—and there are stats to back it up. Just ask the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada (EDAWN). That’s incredible when you consider where we’ve come from as a region over the last decade or so. We’ve put the Reno 911! jokes deeply into the rearview mirror.

One of my dear friends and colleagues, Pawel Pietrasienski, is a research professor at both the Warsaw School of Economics and University of Nevada, Reno. Much of his research focuses on startup ecosystems in the U.S. and around the world. He has identified how successful startup ecosystems thrive, and why. We all know the poster child is just over the hill in Silicon Valley; there’s also the Boston/Cambridge area of Massachusetts, and a few others. But why aren’t there more startup hotbeds in the U.S.? Why is Reno now a hotbed?

Pietrasienski has provided an analogy, tabbed “the triple helix model,” named after the DNA strands that uniquely make up the foundations of all animal life. I will not delve further into the medical correlations, since I’m a dumb left-handed guy with absolutely no credibility to discuss science on any level; I will, however, explain the analogy within my core competency, startups and SMEs (small to medium enterprises). Reno is the perfect example of late of this triple helix model: Business leaders, government leaders and academic leaders have come together for the benefit of nurturing a business ecosystem.

Reno is the perfect example of late of this triple helix model: Business leaders, government leaders and academic leaders have come together for the benefit of nurturing a business ecosystem.

We’ve always had the three primary players in Reno, but before, there was no coordination or collaboration: Businesses were doing their own thing; the university was in a relative silo, and the economic development folks were doing their own thing. That all changed in 2010, when we held a one-day conference called Reno 2020. It was sponsored by another news organization in town, the university and EDAWN. Many in attendance were griping about all of the silos, how few local business leaders were coming onto campus, how students at the U were relatively insulated, and how economic development was focused on other initiatives. At that meeting, I announced I was starting an initiative with Mark Pingle (with College of Business Dean Greg Mosier’s leadership) to create an entrepreneurial initiative at the university. That lead to the e-minor we created, as well as the Sontag Entrepreneurship Competition discussed in this space last month by colleague Dick Bartholet. There was a domino effect. The Innevation Center opened off campus, in downtown Reno. I had an office in there for several years and still host our roundtables as the very first community partner in 2014.

Then there is the Applied Research Facility on campus, created to collaborate with the bleeding-edge tech companies in Northern Nevada. It got the university students involved in cutting-edge development beyond the standard (and relatively mundane) internships that made up the few options for undergrad and grad students to work on true innovation.

While mentoring the founders of Dragonfly Energy at Cleantech Open in San Francisco in 2014, I brought one of the first outside companies into the ARF lab, in 2015. It was a lithium sulfur battery startup from the Bay Area called NexTech, which needed to complete its cutting-edge research and development. (Lithium sulfur batteries have proven to be more stable and less explosive than lithium ion technology.) At the time, the EDAWN folks hired Doug Erwin to focus on the startup side of economic development. He was proactive in further aggregating “the triple helix” players.

This transformation happened in parallel with then-Gov. Brian Sandoval’s support and international business initiatives, which I am honored to continue to carry forth with my colleagues. We now have a dynamic entrepreneurial culture on campus in the Ozmen Center for Entrepreneurship. This all helped get the word out that Reno was open for tech business within the favorable Nevada business climate that already existed. Then the angel investors began taking notice of quality startups here, and the money began flowing in a formidable way. This is our way of implementing the triple helix model for business success.

I guess you can partially blame me and the others mentioned here for the local traffic jams. I don’t apologize.

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