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Henderson’s ‘Start Tank’ accepting applications through Aug. 12

Updated August 7, 2019 - 12:12 pm

Update: The deadline to submit Start Tank applications has been extended to Aug. 12.

For a third year, entrepreneurs will pitch their innovative business ideas during Henderson’s “Start Tank.”

The city is collaborating with Flagstaff, Arizona-based nonprofit Moonshot at the Northern Arizona Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology — along with several other groups — for the competition. Interested entrepreneurs can submit an application until Aug. 5.

It’s a local spin-off of the popular ABC television show “Shark Tank,” on which entrepreneurs pitch their business idea to a panel of self-made entrepreneurs in hopes of securing an investment.

Moonshot at NACET — which helps entrepreneurs bring their product or service to market — approached Henderson a few years ago about starting an incubator program, similar to what they’ve done in a few communities in the West.

“The idea is to ignite the local entrepreneur community, and get them some of the mentorship and some of the training they may need,” said Ken Chapa, Henderson’s acting director of economic development and tourism.

Of those who apply to participate in Start Tank, 20-25 semifinalists will be selected — largely based on whether their product or service is scalable and can be turned into a larger company.

The semifinalists will be invited to take part in a workshop Aug. 17 at the College of Southern Nevada. They’ll work with mentors, analyze their business plan and look at “what it takes to commercialize their idea,” Chapa said.

Then, five finalists will be selected to give a 10-minute business pitch at the Henderson Chamber of Commerce’s Connect Expo at 4 p.m. Aug. 22 at the M Resort.

Entrepreneurs will receive advice from industry experts and local business leaders. A total of $4,000 in cash and prizes will be also distributed to the winners.

Last year, Henderson received about 100 applications from entrepreneurs hoping to participate in Start Tank.

Despite pitches becoming more sophisticated each year, the businesses are typically in their infancy, Chapa said, and competition organizers want to see people “come out of their garages” to get assistance with developing their business.

CSN is one of the partners for Start Tank.

“I don’t know of another opportunity like this across the valley,” said Patty Charlton, vice president/provost at CSN’s Henderson campus.

CSN has academic class offerings in entrepreneurship. And the college is a partner for Nevada Grow, a program state lawmakers passed in 2017 following a pilot project. It provides research and technical help to small businesses looking to expand.

Start Tank is an opportunity to leverage local resources to mentor people are just starting out with their business, she said.

Last year’s workshop participants still get together to talk about where they are now, Charlton said, and receive ongoing mentoring.

2018 Start Tank winner

Megan Collins won the 2018 competition. She and her business partner Tom Mueller founded Solar LED Safety Products, a Las Vegas home-based business that sells reflective safety vests. The business aims to improve safety for workers — particularly road construction crews.

Collins applied for Start Tank after receiving a marketing email about it. “We thought it would be a good way to launch and get some good visibility out there,” she said.

She used information she learned during the workshop to change her business pitch. And she received $1,500 as the competition’s winner.

“I just think that people should take the opportunity even if they’re not confident enough,” she said. “I think they should put themselves out there. The education that goes along with it — and the feedback you get from the professionals in the industry — is so valuable.”

Collins and Mueller started Solar LED Safety Products in 2016. They got the first batch of their product in November 2018 — several months after they won the Start Tank competition.

Collins and Mueller both previously worked in the construction industry; Collins has about 15 years of experience and Mueller owned Mueller Striping.

Their reflective safety vest — designed for motorists to see from up to 2,800 feet away at night — has four solar panels on the shoulders that charge two AA rechargeable batteries. It takes three to five hours of direct sunlight to charge the batteries.

The vest has reflective strips, as well as 16 red LED lights — eight on the front and eight on the back — that flash 60 times a minute and stay on for 48 hours.

There are many applications for the vest, including for bicyclists, security workers and recreationalists, Collins said. But Solar LED Safety Products’ target market is the construction industry.

Collins said they’re also working on changing the product design so law enforcement officers can wear the vest.

They’ve sold about 160 vests to government agencies and businesses, Collins said, including the Nevada Department of Transportation, city of Las Vegas, Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, and MGM Resorts Design and Development. Each vest costs $45, with lower prices for bulk quantities.

How the business started

For years, Mueller ran into issues with motorists not being able to see his road crews, even though workers were wearing reflective safety vests.

About six years ago, Mueller began thinking about creating a more visible vest. His 27-year-old son had been setting up equipment on a freeway with a 55 mph speed limit. Mueller saw a car coming right toward his son and got on a speaker to tell his son to get out of the way.

The motorist was driving 80 to 90 mph, Mueller said, and took out 16 orange cones.

“That would have been the end of my son if I hadn’t seen him coming,” he said.

Situations like that, Mueller said, happen more frequently than people realize. And it fueled his desire to improve the safety of road workers through a more visible vest.

Contact Julie Wootton-Greener at jgreener@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2921. Follow @julieswootton on Twitter.

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