Program aims to jumpstart Nevada upstarts

Associated Press Modified: November 24, 2012 at 5:00 pm •  Published: November 24, 2012

The idea must be for the establishment of a for-profit business to be based in Nevada, though the business can be a startup or early-stage venture, defined as a business that has not earned more than $1 million or received more than $100,000 of investment backing.

Additionally, the concept cannot be primarily based on licensing, franchising or selling the product of another.

Sometime early next year, applicants will be given five minutes to pitch their idea to a panel of five judges, made up of potential investors and venture capitalists. Ten finalists chosen after those "shark tank" sessions will then develop online marketing plans and solicit votes from the public, which will determine the overall winner.

Kerslake said the format is designed to gauge potential success.

"In order to have a successful startup, you need to be investable, you need to be popular enough to get customers and you need to be savvy enough to go out and get customers," Kerslake said.

"This is a pretty well established competition strategy."

The eventual winner won't just get one big check all at once. Instead, the prize money will be parceled out — $25,000 after a winner is chosen; $25,000 after the entity is formed and licensed in the state; and $50,000 once benchmarks identified during the competition are achieved.

"If you don't appeal to your customers, you don't have a chance," Herr said. "So you have to figure that out."

In a state hard hit by the Great Recession and still struggling to rebound, Project Vesto backers are betting that given a chance and financial backing, Nevadans' grit and tenacity will lead to brighter economic times.

"This is Nevada money for Nevada people," the project's website reads. "This is us, pulling ourselves up; This is our own grunting hard work, our own get-it-done; our own micro-brewed, down-home, self-serving revival of Nevada business.

"Investing in ourselves for ourselves."