Mark Rowland shares secret to Vegas’ transformation at StartupConnect AZ
A startup ecosystem is like the human body- made up of many equally important parts that all contribute to overall health. That was the message that Mark Rowland, founder of Las Vegas tech organization ROCeteer, delivered during his keynote address at the Arizona Tech Council’s 2014 StartupConnect AZ event.
ROCeteer works to coach, mentor and train startups and small businesses in the Las Vegas area. Rowland spoke both on ROCeteer’s mission and the essential building blocks of a startup-friendly community. Rowland is an Australian-born entrepreneur and the former CEO of Wagamama, a British restaurant chain.
He pointed to the dramatic transformation of downtown Las Vegas as an example of the positive changes that occur when all the building blocks are present. There used to be a dearth of organization and events in Vegas, which lead to an environment for startups. But that has all changed.
The Downtown Project, which has been a major part of revitalization efforts in downtown Las Vegas, has brought not only startups, but music, art and education to the area. It was the result of a large-scale effort by investors like Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, and community members. Significant growth has happened since 2012, he said.
“Downtown Vegas, when I saw it three years ago, was not a place where I wanted to hang out,” Rowland said. “There were lots of broken things and buildings boarded up. But you walk downtown now and there’s lots of really cool restaurants and cafes, a retail park and a school. There’s music and every night you’ll hear something on the street.”
Rowland identified nine essential components of a successful startup ecosystem: leaders, venues, mentors, events, startups, corporations, government, investors and universities. The interaction and integration of all of these groups is what builds strong business communities, he said.
Over the past two years, Rowland said downtown Las Vegas has experienced a boom in all of these areas, each one supporting the other, which has “radically changed the community.”
Leaders especially must remain committed to the startup community for a great deal of time, sometimes more than 10 or 15 years, he said. It’s important to stay the course and work hard in the face of challenges.
“The community that starts from within is the one that’s really sustainable,” Rowland said. “This ecosystem that we have now will be sustainable, but it doesn’t just happen on it’s own- it’s a lot of work to actually get that ecosystem to that level.”