#VegasTech is the official Twitter hash tag. If you're on Twitter, or even if you're not, you should start paying attention to the Las Vegas technology startup scene. In case you haven't heard, there's a buzz right now in our local community about the technology ecosystem that is brewing.
From wildly successful social media maverick Gary Vaynerchuk predicting that Las Vegas will be the #3 startup city in the nation, to Tony Hsieh committing $350 million toward the revitalization of downtown, there's something to be excited about beyond the glitz and glamor of the Las Vegas Strip.
Twleve years ago, when BannerView.com was being started, there was a lot of buzz in the Las Vegas community about diversifying our economy and how technology might be the avenue for that diversification. However, no one was stepping up to commit financial resources to our own garage sale or other projects. You could clearly see that there was a lot of talk, but very little coordination and money being put behind a real effort.
Then 9/11 happened. All attention was turned back toward gaming as the savior of our economy and within two years, it had. At that point, most talk about diversification died. Ten months ago, when we raised a round of funding, no one even noticed because people where still waiting for gaming to save the day.
Much Has Changed in 10 Months
It took Las Vegas hitting rock bottom with people coming to realize that the casino and hospitality industries were not going to be able to save the day before anyone actually started doing anything about diversifying the local economy. Heck, even the gaming industry realized that Vegas wasn't where the money was and started making huge bets on Macau. That's why, this time, things are different. People are putting significant money where their mouth is and even the state government is onboard!
Just last month at the January Meeting of Turnaround Management Association of Nevada, State Treasurer Kate Marshall and Regional Director of the Governor's Office of Economic Development Terri Janison, shared information about their offices' programs that are committing $50 million and $10 million respectively toward diversifying our local economy.
If only a portion of that money finds its way into the technology startup sector in Las Vegas, that could be the additional leverage needed to create a sustainable technology ecosystem in the valley.
However, Las Vegas still faces the perception that there is not sufficient talent required to sustain a technology community. This week, at the second meeting of MobileMonday, a gathering of professionals that advocate and develop for mobile devices, that perception was apparent. An international transplant asked how we can expect to build a technology ecosystem when we don't have the talent to support it.
Of course, I was quick to chime in with the fact that we do have a very talented technology community. While many of these folks may not have been in the room to help support my view, the gaming industry is an industry at the forefront of technological innovation. The large casino operators have done a great job holding onto talent by paying competitive wages and only having to worry about a few other operators that would even be in a position to recruit such talent. The problem has always been that Las Vegas startups have never had the funding to pay competitive salaries. Top employees go where the best jobs are regardless of all the other superfluous garbage that people spew about community, education, taxes, etc. Therefore, to startups, they were not flocking.
Properly funded technology startups do have the opportunity to recruit existing top talent from the gaming industry. That would simply require the gaming giants to go out and do what they do best, recruit new talent from the outside. Las Vegas has been good for gaming and now's the opportunity for gaming to be good for the diversification of Las Vegas. They've paved the way. Now the technology community simply needs to recognize the path.
We are certainly excited about the many projects and programs garnering attention in the press, but we must keep up the momentum by soliciting the help of the general business community and attracting capital to this market. There's an unprecedented opportunity for economic diversification beyond the lip service that's been paid to it during slow times in the past. Get plugged into the VegasTech community so that you too can become a part of the diversification effort that's happening right now!