Finding comfort in opportunity

UNR Student Zoe Wentzel

My parents and I in the quad after finishing my first year at UNR. Note my dad is wearing the UNR shirt (he’s not an alumni), and I’m wearing a shirt that protests the Seattle basketball team being relocated to OKC. Priorities. Photo By: Joe Hanick

By Zoe Wentzel

My final choice in moving to Reno for college had mostly to do with the fact that the University of Nevada, Reno was out of state and had a good journalism department. While I was impressed with the university, there was little about the city itself that magnetized me to move here for school. As I grow nearer to graduation I’ve come to realize that my attitude around this place has changed, and while I’ll never truly be a Nevada girl, I’m starting to understand that my choices in life involve much more than just what makes me comfortable.

Originally, I’m from Seattle, and if you’ve ever met me, you already know this. It’s essentially a running joke that I bring up Seattle as often as possible to the point of beating a dead horse.

My freshman year at UNR went surprisingly well. I made the academic transition from high school to college without too many problems, and somehow I acquired friends all on my own. But I just couldn’t accept Reno as my home. Sure, I moved here to experience something different, but the Biggest Little City just rubbed me the wrong way. Reno to me was too dry, too conservative, and lacked what I liked to call “real mountains” (but really, have you ever seen Mount Rainier?).

My goals going into journalism school were to graduate and transform into this super awesome music reporter who got to go on Warped Tour and interview cool bands, but no matter how I tried, Reno just wasn’t facilitating those dreams. Each semester of school I would shift further and further away from that idea. Perhaps it was a lofty goal for myself, and maybe a bit of an immature one as well. I boggled my brain trying to pin point what it was that I really cared about and what I was good at. I like to research. I like to write. I like to use words as a creative medium, and I figured myself to be pretty all right at all those things.

Time passed and things were pretty normal leading into this, my last year at UNR. I acquired another major, French, moved into a new apartment with only one roommate instead of three, and I started to face the question that I always knew to be inevitable: what am I going to do after I graduate?

This is no easy question to ask your 21-year-old self.

You feel like you’re asking yourself, “how would you like to end your life in a year?” Leaving school was a scary thought. It still is a scary thought, but as I spent my last summer off from school pondering this question, I began to realize that Reno might be the best place for me to start.

It was July 6 when The New York Times came out with their big article highlighting Reno as an up-and-coming tech city, and it was that day that I began realizing that I may have unknowingly chosen my school for more than just escaping people from high school, but also for Reno’s potential. As someone who was born and raised in a tech city, growing up alongside the industry in the area, I knew this was something worth considering and understanding.

The ending quote of the NYT article, said by Eric Jennings of the Reno-based company Pinoccio, is what hit home the most for me. He said, “There’s such a low barrier to entry here…if you’re passionate about something you can just take it on.” I took that idea into the start of the semester and started to take on school knowing that every thing I’d be doing in my classes would be one step closer towards becoming a “real adult”.

It was when the Tesla deal was announced that I actually realized that Reno was going to turn into something much bigger than the cheap gambling town most outsiders see it as today. Industry was laying foot here, and one that is new and innovative. I explored the Tesla deal, both for school and out of my own personal curiosity, and began to realize what this could mean for someone who isn’t skilled in lithium battery making, like myself.

Sure, Tesla has been, and will be talked about time and time again by people in Nevada, but there’s a reason for that. It’s a really big deal.

The Reno area has been considered by a high profile, cutting edge company as being a viable place for business and soon other industries and companies will follow. This means opportunity for many skills and interests, especially journalists. Technology offers a great deal of opportunity for writers because, while useful or handy, technology just doesn’t get its message across without creative, well-researched writing.

It feels stupid to me that it took three years for me to realize that growing up isn’t always about being totally comfortable with your surroundings, because it seems so obvious to me now that Reno is where I’d start out all along. It probably helped that I grew to better understand what Reno is all about, but I truly think that what it took was realizing that opportunity sometimes outweighs what makes us comfortable. I could easily go home after graduation, but I’d also be stuck living in the basement of my parent’s house working as a gas station clerk trying to find a job that uses my journalism or French degree. I’d have all the luxuries I know and love, but at what cost?

Do I plan on staying in Reno forever? No. It’s even possible that in four years I’ll be writing something that talks about how crazy I was to believe that Reno was the place to start my career. For now though, it seems crazy for me not to try. Graduating from UNR with a journalism degree may have never been so valuable, and it’s official, I’m staying in Reno.

Local Startups Unite for Biggest Little Startup Fair

Jacki Hallerbach and other members of the Young Professionals Network greeted visitors at Friday's Biggest Little Startup Fair. Photo by Kelsey McCutcheon.

Jacki Hallerbach and other members of the Young Professionals Network greeted visitors at Friday’s Biggest Little Startup Fair. Photo by Kelsey McCutcheon.

From indoor mushroom farms to vintage clothing consultants to cycling training systems, the Biggest Little Startup Fair was the place to be inspired on Friday May 9, as more than 25 local startups and business organizations gathered at Reno’s West Street Market to talk with local community members. The fair attracted close to 350 visitors, according to Jacki Hallerbach of the Young Professionals Network.

The Startup Fair, a networking opportunity and job fair, was aimed at connecting members of Reno’s developing startup community with students, local business organizations, the local community, and each other. Many visitors to the fair were students seeking employment opportunities, including students from the University of Nevada, Reno and the Davidson Academy of Nevada, a local high school for gifted children.

Over 20 startup companies gathered on Friday May 9 to network with the community at West Street Market.

Over 20 startup companies gathered to network with the Reno community at West Street Market on Friday. Photo by Cody Johnson.

Larry Martin, CEO and managing director of Innovolux, a local startup company that specializes in LED products, collected approximately 25 resumes from potential employees at the Startup Fair. “This is completely beyond what I thought. I’d love to participate in the next one,” said Martin. Linda Petrini of Talintel, a startup company specializing in workforce development systems, said that she collected a basket of resumes for their company as well.

Business organizations such as 1 Million Cups participated in the fair also, learning about new startup companies and networking with Startup Fair visitors. “We’ve signed up about five companies today, so that’s fairly productive for us,” said Zach Draper of 1 Million Cups, a group that meets weekly to advise and mentor Reno entrepreneurs.

James Elste of Inqiri spoke to visitors and participants at the Startup Fair.

James Elste of Inqiri spoke to visitors and participants at the Startup Fair.  Photo by Cody Johnson.

“This is about establishing the community,” said James Elste of Inqiri, a company that designed a decision-making web app. “It’s not just the startups and the work they’re doing in their respective locations, its not just the organizations like EDAWN, City of Reno, UNR, YPN; it’s everybody coming together and saying this is really important for Reno.”


Did you attend the Biggest Little Startup Fair?  We’d love to hear your thoughts and suggestions! Please feel free to add a comment below.

Entrepreneur Interview: Krysta Jackson, 1 Million Cups

She is an entrepreneur, graduate student, accountant and a comedian. You can find Krysta Jackson at the 1 Million Cups event on Wednesdays, on campus or in a local comedy competition.

Krysta Jackson – entrepreneur, Master of Accountancy student and 1MC organizer.

Jackson assists in accounting operations at Gensano, LLC. She is involved in entrepreneurial development at the University of Nevada, Reno and an economic development with the local community. She is also one of the organizers of 1 Million Cups (1MC) – a program that offers entrepreneurs the opportunity to present their startups to the local business community. In the college of business she is providing guidance for students toward Sontag – UNR’s entrepreneurship competition.

Jackson is a multitasker with a strategy – before the age of 30, she successfully sold her first business – Lucky Mutts, a pet care service that offers over-night pet sitting, vacation visits and dog walking.

“I started the business on July 1st 2009 with the intent to sell it within five years. I sold it in 4 years and 5 months. I did pretty well! “ Jackson said. She sold her business for a couple different reasons: “I was always the intent to sell it. I created the business to be a jumping off point, not a lifelong career company. Also, it was time. I was giving it much less attention and energy than it deserved. Also, the price wasn’t too bad!”

 Jackson shared her thoughts regarding a success goal of a small business: “I created a business from nothing and now was not only buying my own groceries, but able to buy his too from something that didn’t exist a year prior. That was an absolute success. So if creating a comfortable career for yourself and maybe a few others is the end goal, then a sustainable model is most important measure of success. If the goal is to sell to Google for untold millions, well good luck. I would love to marry Paul Rudd and while it’s not quite impossible, it’s highly unlikely. So if you define success that way, it’s definitely “sexier” but also a whole lot harder achieve. But there are many middle ground goals as well. E.g. selling to IGT is a lot more probable than Google. So like so many other things in life, it depends.”

Jackson is involved in entrepreneurship in the community and at the college of business. She takes part in organization of entrepreneurship events. It was interesting to hear about student startup plans from an insider from the College of Business at UNR.

  “I’ve heard lots of talk from business students about wanting to get involved with a startup, but usually it’s the engineers (mechanical, computer, etc..) that have the ideas that produce a startup. Many students are attracted to the flash and ease (at least sound of ease) of applications and the Internet of things, but again the engineering departments along with others have produced interesting projects in less glamorous and also less crowded spaces.” Said Jackson.

I asked Jackson about her expectations regarding the student mixture that will search for jobs at the Biggest Little Startup Fair. As someone who is involved in entrepreneurship event organization, she hopes to see a mix of students from various departments. “If a person already has an innate desire to be a part of the startup scene, no matter the department, I expect them to be there as it’s the first event particularly for startups (vs. small business like the Entrepreneurship Expo every September).”

I always claim that persistence and being at the right place at the right time will pay off at the end. Jackson’s story is another proof for this strategic thinking. For a small business owner, it is important to attend events in the local entrepreneurial community and that how she became one of the organizers of 1MC:  “Long story short: I showed up every week and helped put away the chairs afterwards. Eventually they asked and I practically yelled yes.”

Jackson does not consider the business she sold as a startup, but as a small business. In her opinion startup is a flexible, scalable business in the pre-revenue stage.Young entrepreneurs represent a positive addition to the local economy. Before Jackson sold her first business she employed few employees, some were students from UNR and from the Truckee Meadows Community College. Even though the number of jobs provided is on a smaller scale, still there are few more people that receive an income.

This is the spirit that we are hoping to see in the startup fair – little companies with big ideas that will grow into companies that employ students. The purpose is to keep innovation and talent in the beautiful city of Reno.


Intern Interview: Andrea Buchanan, SoSu.TV

Andrea Buchanan, SoSu.TV intern

Andrea Buchanan, student intern for SoSu.TV. Photo by Kelsey McCutcheon.

Employers, take note: “Intern” does not always mean “inexperienced,” at least not in the case of Andrea Buchanan, student intern for local startup company SoSu.TV.

Buchanan joined the military after high school, and worked in radio and television broadcasting while stationed in the Azores, Turkey, Qatar, Afghanistan and the U.S. Following her military service, Buchanan obtained a culinary degree from a school in San Francisco, working for a series of restaurants and wineries before trying her hand at teaching at a culinary school in Dallas. On the side, she has also done freelance work for CBS.

After moving to Reno, Buchanan enrolled as an English student at Truckee Meadows Community College. She found the job with SoSu.TV through TMCC’s scholarship internship program, which provides students with the opportunity to complete a three-credit paid internship with a local business or organization.

“You’re doing an internship but you’re being paid by the school to do it, so it’s kind of like financial aid,” Buchanan explained. To pay each student intern, TMCC provides scholarships of up to $2,550.

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Kam K. Leang’s Vertical (Ad)Ventures

Leang carries a pair of his homegrown skis in Alaska's Chugach Range / Andrew J. Fleming photo

Leang carries a pair of his homegrown skis in Alaska’s Chugach Range / Andrew J. Fleming photo

UNR’s MECHANICAL ENGINEERING professor Dr. Kam Leang and three of his closest friends were skinning up the throat of an Arctic mountain slope last year during a 10-day ski tour of Norway’s Lofoten Islands. The setting was otherworldly: they were surrounded by castle-like peaks rising 1200 meters from the North Atlantic, with the promise of open-slope descents from summit to sea.

But Leang and his friends couldn’t repress a niggling feeling of dread; everything about their route spelled “danger.” A recent storm had coated the peaks with a goodly dose of powder, which certainly meant epic skiing – but Leang recognized the 35-degree slope as a common angle for avalanches and the gully as a notorious terrain trap.

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Founder interview: Alex Ellison, Dunce

Alex Ellison. Photo by Jocelyn Noel.

Alex Ellison. Photo by Jocelyn Noel.

Bilingual business owner, part-time grad student, Reno Midtown Rotary Club president-elect.

Alex Ellison wears many hats, but a dunce cap isn’t one of them.

She started Dunce, a college planning service, in October. As she prepares teens for standardized tests, Ellison also studies Information Technology in Education at the University of Nevada, Reno.

UNR Tech Connect rode with Ellison as she navigated downtown Reno in her blue Subaru Impreza on Monday. That day, her schedule included consultations with high school students at the Reno Collective and a Rotary Club meeting.

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Journalism Students Tour Silicon Valley

What do students and startups have in common? We are seekers of new ideas. We are inspired by innovation. We embrace the unknown. We benefit from good advice.

Looking for insight into the future of news, UNR Tech Connect traveled to Silicon Valley to talk with journalists and designers who are doing things well and doing things in creative ways. Watch our video for tips from the Center for Investigative Reporting, the Stanford School of Design and IDEO!

Video by Kelsey McCutcheon