Pansky's passion:

Linking small businesses to federal investment dollars

Listening to Mike Pansky talk about his business, InterKn, is like listening to an enthusiastic shepherd talk about sheep herding.

Except that, in this case, the sheep are government-backed research-and-development grants that he is trying to corral for the small businesses of America.

"There are thousands and thousands of startups that we profile that the government wants to work with," Pansky said. "The government wants to mature these into larger companies and, obviously, so do I."

The unusual spelling of InterKn, which is pronounced "intern," comes both from the fact that its work involves interknitting information about government funding from multiple sources and from Pansky's view of himself as an ongoing apprentice in this new area of data collection.

"I'm going to be an intern for the rest of my life, so I like to say that I'm the eternal intern regardless of how big the company gets," he said.

For now, the company is not merely in its start-up phase, but it is trailblazing the field in which it performs.

Essentially, InterKn mines the World Wide Web for news about the federal government's Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer programs.

It collects this data and makes it available through its website, www.interkn.com: free for businesses that just want to conduct a simple search, and for a $3,500 yearly fee for those that want a dose of enterprise analytics as well.

"We now encompass more than 50,000 licensable technologies," Pansky said. "We aggregate from all the national institutions, the national research labs and the agencies, bringing this information into one single location for all the licensable tech."

The College of Business at the University of Nevada, Reno actually stepped in during Pansky's freshman year - in the form of a freshman economics course taught by instructor Brad Schiller - and guided him to the profession he is developing.

"My original plan was to be an attorney, and then I realized I like the business aspect more than the legal aspect," he said. "The mergers and acquisitions area was an immediate fixation with me, and the understanding of inorganic growth (growth via takeovers and mergers, rather than through sales growth) for organizations."

Born in Tarzana, Calif., Pansky grew up in Woodbridge, Va., where his father, Steven, was a mid-level supervisor in the Federal Aviation Administration. After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the East Coast, Pansky's father was appointed a federal security director for the airports of Northern Nevada and moved his family to Reno.

As the 21st century moved on, Pansky earned both his bachelor's and his master's degrees from The College of Business, then headed east across the Truckee Meadows to Sierra Nevada Corporation, where he continued his work with mergers and acquisitions analysis.

From Sierra Nevada Corporation, Pansky moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, where he worked on market strategy and business development for Westfield Retail Solutions, a retail research arm of global shopping-center firm Westfield Corp.

This experience, and his work at Sierra Nevada Corporation, led him to form InterKn in the third quarter of 2015 while he was still in the Bay Area, though he moved back to Reno in January 2016 for its more advantageous business environment.

Patrick Garman, senior vice president of business operations for Sierra Nevada Corporation and a man Pansky still considers a mentor, said that the young entrepreneur clearly was qualified to start his business.

"He's got a domain knowledge that is not common, because he's gone deep into it," Garman said. "He's got a skill set and a desire to take that domain knowledge and put it into creating a tool that is usable and can grow."

And above all, one that is far less expensive than current methods.

"I have these business development guys, and that's what they do," Garman said. "I pay a guy $150,000 to $180,000 a year, and his entire job is to look at the Web, walk around at conferences and find out what's happening in industry.

"And here's something that can do that for a teeny fraction of the cost."

It also is something that Pansky hopes he can do with the help of University of Nevada, Reno graduates, whom he considers to be ideal candidates for his home-town firm, unlike many from other schools in the nation.

"A lot of graduates I talk to in those places really don't have a buy-in to their town, or their school. A lot of them are ready to jump across the country if it means the right opportunity," he said.

"With a lot of the students here, they really have a personal pride in the university. Which is great: having that community aspect is a big factor, and something you don't often see."