3 young tech entrepreneurs who are creating a new Reno
Local worthies (both civic and commercial) will tell you there’s never been a better time to set up shop in Reno, and certainly, resources abound to help attract, incubate and expand new businesses.
These resources include the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada (EDAWN), the Innevation Center to promote start-ups, the Reno Collective work space for entrepreneurs, the Rethink Reno website that promotes the city’s economic opportunities, and a small group of new venture capital funds.
Technology firms are an important focus of these efforts, says Doug Erwin, vice president of entrepreneurial development at EDAWN.
“Tech companies in particular hire a much larger percentage of people at a higher wage. The higher the wage, the more local economic impact.”
We’ve all heard of Tesla’s battery gigafactory and Switch’s $1 billion data center, but many local technology companies are smaller start-ups, often at the leading-edge of their sectors.
What are some of these companies? What do they make or provide? And who are the people running them?
With these questions in mind, RENO Magazine sat down with co-founders from a trio of Reno tech firms. Two of the businesses are transplants, one is homegrown, and all started within the last three years.
The co-founders, entrepreneurs each younger than 35, are helping to transform the perception of Reno and the city’s economic future.
Katie Lay, 31, co-founder and vice president of sales and business development, CAEK Inc.
The technology industry, it’s often said, is a boys club. CAEK is different — it’s a girls club.
Four women founded the company in 2013 in Arkansas. The company’s name (pronounced like “cake”) combines the initial letters of the first names of the founders.
Last fall, CAEK moved its headquarters to downtown Reno, occupying a soaring loft-ish expanse on the second floor of Arlington Towers overlooking Wingfield Park.
The space seems as much cool flat as it does corporate office.
We walked in, and I said, ‘This is it,’ ” co-founder Katie Lay says. “We saw our company growing here.”
Through LayerCompliance, its flagship product, CAEK provides software that enables health care industry clients to meet the security regulations of HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. These regulations set standards to protect people’s electronic health information.
Compliance is extremely challenging, costs are significant when records breaches occur and there’s no allowance for size.
“Whether you’re a one-provider office or the Mayo Clinic, the law is exactly the same in what it tells you to do,” Lay says.
As you’d expect, given the uniform and wide-ranging application of HIPAA security requirements, CAEK’s software is scalable, so “we can serve Dr. Smith with a staff of five and an organization with 50 offshoot clinics,” Lay says.
In the first quarter of 2017, “we’re prepping for a big chunk of hiring,” she continues, positions in software development, information security, finance, sales and human resources.
The ability to hire talented employees, access to West Coast capital markets and Nevada’s business-friendly tax structure drew CAEK to Reno. So did the city’s commitment to diversifying the area’s economy.
“Reno is emerging as a tech hub, and we saw what it can do for a town when you foster an entrepreneurial tech community,” Lay says.
Only 2 to 3 percent of tech firms are founded by women, Lay says, and along the way, she’s faced folks who have misjudged her role in the room — like the man who held up a coffee mug to be filled, not realizing she was going to lead the presentation.
But in the end, Lay says, excellence is what matters: “If you can solve a problem for a client, it doesn’t matter who you are.”
Mykle Gaynor, 34, co-founder and chief technology officer, Click Bio
Mykle Gaynor is interested in my messenger bag as we sit down to coffee. Not, as some might have been, in the designer or the leather or the jacquard-inspired pattern worked into the front and flap.
No, Gaynor is studying the strap, which I’ve adjusted to its maximum length. Why have I set the strap so long, he wonders, and what does that say about how I use the bag?
Gaynor, I soon learn, spends significant time on questions of form and function and how best to unite them.
Click Bio, the company he co-founded in 2014, creates “better lab tools to allow scientists to reduce discovery costs and increase discovery speeds,” he says.
Put simply, you might say it’s a search for a better beaker. Put another way, you’d say it’s a blood analysis tool that cuts processing time in half and reduces the amount of plastic used.
Gaynor, a physicist by training, hails from Upstate New York and once worked at Hamilton Robotics, a Reno manufacturer of products for precise fluid measurement and handling.
Gaynor and his business partner, Craig Vincze, considered setting up shop in the Bay Area, but “with very few exceptions, Reno was better for us,” Gaynor says.
“From the weather to the taxes to the outside to the size of our house to the ability to walk into the Basement (beneath the old downtown post office) and have coffee and get a table, Reno is much more interesting.”
Still, Reno presents at least one challenge, Gaynor says: sourcing of capital. Unlike the Bay Area, the city does not yet have a widely flourishing culture of tech investment.
“We had to find the people who understood what we’re doing, where we came from, where we’re going.”
That direction includes Click Bio’s hiring of engineers, project managers and product managers.
“Our team is critically important to our growth,” Gaynor says. “We have a very strong network here, a wonderful entrepreneurial support structure. We know all of the people we want to hire — now it’s just convincing them to leave their jobs.”
Though Click Bio’s headquarters are in Reno, Gaynor says, its product manufacturer is in California — for now.
“As we grow and exceed the capabilities of our manufacturer, we’ll explore local options.”
Robert Armstrong, 32, co-founder and senior vice president of product and technology, Bombora
Bombora takes its name from an indigenous Australian term for a patch of large sea waves breaking over a shallow area offshore.
The company name nods to a passion of one founder — “he was a big surfer,” fellow founder Robert Armstrong says — but also reflects what Armstrong calls the “sea of data” the company creates, explores, organizes and makes useful for sales teams and marketers.
“We track what businesses are researching, and when we see a spike in research on a certain subject, we sell that information to suppliers of those services or products,” Armstrong explains.
In other words, Bombora lets companies know when what they’re offering is the object of interest or discussion, across 2,800 topics, so they can compete more effectively.
“It’s solutions sales,” Armstrong adds.
Bombora launched in 2014, and its headquarters is on Park Avenue South in Manhattan.
Unlike many start-ups, “we’re bootstrapped,” Armstrong says. “We didn’t take any VC (venture capital) money. A lot of young start-ups with a lot of money, usually that cost gets passed on to the customer.”
When Bombora began considering opening a West Coast outpost, the Bay Area (not surprising) got looked at first, but what settled the company on Reno were qualities other entrepreneurs have cited: start-up costs, quality of life, proximity to the Bay (without its attendant challenges) and community enthusiasm.
“There’s a lot of potential here,” Armstrong says. “We get three times more inbound requests to work for Bombora here than in New York City. In New York, you have to pay recruiters to drag people to meetings.”
Plus, “part of going to Reno is in our DNA. We like to trailblaze.” A move that started “as an experiment for the first year has worked out very well.”
When RENO Magazine spoke with Armstrong late last fall, 15 people were already on staff in Bombora’s East Liberty Street digs that feature a scramble of work stations and a glass-walled conference room.
At that time, Bombora was hiring in data sales, data operations and engineering. Finding someone with experience in Bombora’s sector to lead sales and marketing strategy would prove more difficult, the co-founder felt.
And although Armstrong swims in the tech-forward waters of Big Data, he’s refreshingly low-tech in other ways. He still subscribes to cable. The smart watch? He didn’t like it.
“And I’m not on Facebook anymore,” he says. “I don’t need this.”