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Over 70 entrepreneurs expected for Las Vegas Startup Weekend

It’s been more than a year since Mike Zetlow moved on from being a full-time entrepreneur, but that won’t keep him away from this year’s Las Vegas Startup Weekend.

This will be the local web developer’s fourth year participating in the event. After working on ideas that placed in 2015, 2016 and 2017, he can’t stay away.

“We call it a summer camp high,” he said. “You meet strangers, you have fun, you build something and accomplish a goal.”

Even if a pitch doesn’t place, Zetlow said Startup Weekend is the perfect push to get an idea off the ground.

“Startup Weekend gives you a kick in the butt to just start it,” he said. “Think of it as a launching point.”

More than 70 attendees are expected at this year’s Las Vegas Startup Weekend, according to Kenny Eliason, one of the event’s organizers.

The three-day event begins Friday evening and will lead entrepreneurs through pitches, brainstorming sessions, business plan development, prototype creation, demos, and presentations.

Startup Weekend is a global effort led by accelerator Techstars meant to transform ideas into marketable business plans. The event is open to pitches in any category, Eliason said.

“We want to keep it general,” he said. “We’re wide open. Whatever your idea is, pitch it.”

Local entrepreneur Ciara Byrne will be one of four judges this year. She credits the event for the success of her school gardening startup, Green Our Planet, which she pitched during the 2012 Startup Weekend.

“It was very exciting to have a team of people … just bringing your idea and your vision to life,” she said. “It’s a feeling of community.”

Piotr Tomasik, the co-founder and chief technology officer of Las Vegas-based social intelligence firm Influential, will be acting as a judge for the first time this year.

“I’m really looking forward to seeing what people thought up, of helping them craft their ideas in order to be consumable by investors,” he said.

Tomasik said he wants pitches to become successful for both the entrepreneurs’ and the city’s sake. He believes more Las Vegas-based companies could lead to economic development in Southern Nevada.

“We need to create a city that’s more than just hospitality,” he said. “If we could have a hub of software developers also, I don’t think that would hurt. (More) high-paying jobs never hurt the community.”

‘Stick-to-it-ness’

Tomasik said he’ll be looking for scalability in the pitches, things that can “really impact the community that they’re in. The stuff that we can keep in Vegas and hopefully won’t leave and go to Silicon Valley.”

According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about half of all small businesses fail within the first four years. Byrne said she came close to giving up on her own company in the first three years — that’s why she’s planning on judging personalities as well as ideas.

“Of course you need a viable idea and business model, but at the end of the day I think it’s the character of the people,” she said. “I’m going to be selecting the person that has the stick-to-it-ness that’s going to drive (the business).”

Not every pitch will be a winning idea, but Zetlow said Startup Weekend’s networking opportunities are more useful than any prize.

“I now know hundreds of developers,” he said. “I realized that opportunities come from who you know. … I think that if people want to get the most out of Startup Weekend, they have to go in wanting to learn as much about other people in Startup Weekend as possible.”

Contact Bailey Schulz at bschulz@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0233. Follow @bailey_schulz on Twitter.

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