Timing is everything in life as well as business. Bill Gates developed the first tablet. No one was ready for it until Steve Jobs came along and made the right one at the right time. Gates even admits it in this Business Insider post from 2013.
I recently met Ryan Negri, Managing Director of Iron Yard Ventures. He is building a gaming and hospitality accelerator in Downtown Las Vegas. After researching his background and chatting with him, I’m in complete agreement that right now in Las Vegas is the perfect time for an accelerator like this.
Casino gaming is on the decline. Major properties in Las Vegas are scrambling for new ideas to bring people back to the center of the gaming world, but there hasn’t been a source of innovation locally until Ryan and Iron Yard came to town.
Ryan has serious entrepreneurial chops. This post isn’t a biography. You can read his About Me page for yourself. Instead, I want to look at how and why Iron Yard will succeed. Before I had lunch with Ryan at Big Ern's BBQ in the Container Park (I highly recommend the chopped brisket sandwich), I did a little digging into prevailing theory behind what makes a good accelerator program.
My research resulted in THIS Medium.com post. I love the five talking points in it. Following is my take on those five as it pertains to Iron Yard Ventures in Las Vegas.
Industry Specific Mentors
Good mentors make a good accelerator. Location matters more than people realize so putting a hospitality and gaming accelerator in the mecca of customer service makes all the sense in the world. This should draw plenty of smart and influential people here.
There is another point that my lack of startup life experience never considered. Ryan told me many startup mentors use this role as a way to peddle their services. Often, these people use a freemium model to get startups to be excited about the connection only to stick founders with a huge bill for services at the end of the program they didn’t know they didn’t need.
Ryan said he wants mentors to mentor, and that’s it. On its face, that’s a very noble and worthwhile idea. Mentors still have to eat, live, and work. No one is a startup mentor all the time. Ryan will have to pay people well for their program time or find smart, experienced rich people who are bored and want to donate their time. Keep in mind you get what you pay for.
Other Startups In The Program And Credibility
Construction on the accelerator building isn’t even finished. The grand opening is scheduled for September 12. This is a brand new accelerator with no history and nothing from which to find success other than sponsors, mentors, Ryan, and the team he builds.
Reading his biography leads me to believe getting startups to show up won’t be a problem at first. With the backing of major strip and downtown casinos, there is plenty of money and support willing to sponsor the program.
Ryan gave me names and amounts under the condition of secrecy for the moment. There is credibility in the foundation. The keys to growth are well-funded startups coming out of the system and great exits or acquisitions. Ryan did it three times. He knows the road in and out.
Provide Something Startup Doesn’t Have
Ryan said Iron Yard Ventures is a company builder. This means if you don’t have a MVP and a solid team getting accepted to the program is much more difficult.
Additionally, location matters. There are plenty of companies and investors who will want to listen to innovative ideas about gaming and hospitality in Las Vegas. Access to the right people and money more often is a great selling point. Imagine pitch events where MGM and Caesars Entertainment CEOs along with Steve Wynn attend on a regular basis. Yeah. That will definitely happen in Las Vegas.
Ryan said many founders lament the lack of local support for accelerator programs. His solution to this is regular town halls where founders and public get together in the same room to just ask for help. Maybe it’s an app download or a share on social media. I asked Ryan his plans to get people into these meetings. "Free food and beer do wonders," he replied.
Investors And Sponsors Are A Good Fit
The largest gaming and hospitality companies in the world are in Las Vegas. It comes off as me repeating myself, but it’s true: This is the right location and the right time for this idea. It’s obvious these companies with lots of money are starved for ideas and new ways to grow and bring people back to Las Vegas. Ryan said this whole thing is a perfect storm of timing, people, location, and money. I agree.
From a deal flow perspective, the UNLV business incubator program and the local Iron Yard Code Academy provide plenty of people and ideas. The partnership with University of Phoenix is another interesting part to this. Ryan said it’s a non-profit venture. We both agree the RedFlint Experience Center sounds like a long term play from University of Phoenix. Mobile educational access is the future of learning, and U of P is looking there.
Program Timeline And Application Details
As I said earlier, the building isn’t fully constructed. Ryan is building his team and pitching to sponsors right now. Sponsors are ready to be on board. Official announcements will come once the right people sign their names and write the checks. Grand opening is September 12. The first Demo Day and Launch Event is planned for November.
Application to the program is like any other accelerator. Teams apply, pitch to the team, and are selected for the 13-week residence program. Expect plenty of work and interaction with entrepreneurs in residence on site and investors in and out. Iron Yard Ventures accelerator is no joke as a startup builder. It’s program is highly rated by Forbes and other publications.
I plan on returning in August for an update and building walk through. Plenty of pictures coming when that happens. More as I get it.