As Sierra Hixson prepared to hike the 170-mile Tahoe Rim Trail a couple of years ago, she could not find a source of high-quality nutrition for vegan athletes such as herself.
The business and psychology student at the University of Nevada, Reno turned that insight into an entrepreneurial startup — Adventure Provisions — that has won support from a College of Business program that provides seed funding up to $500 to help student entrepreneurs take their first steps.
For Hixson, the $500 Student Startup Award through the LaunchNevada Initiative provided money for labels and packaging materials for her fledgling company and allowed her to buy ingredients to test additional products.
“This helps. It helps a lot,” said Hixson, who is selling four varieties of Adventure Provision dehydrated meals at the Riverside Farmers Market in Reno while she builds her young company.
“LaunchNevada, based in the Ozmen Center for Entrepreneurship in the College of Business, was created in 2021 to support student teams during the very first steps of their creation of new businesses,” Dr. Mehmet Tosun, director of the Ozmen Center, said. The primary funding to support the LaunchNevada Initiative was provided by Inc Authority, LLC, a Reno company that offers business development services.
The grants assist student teams that are preparing to enter the annual Sontag Entrepreneurship Competition. That competition, launched through a $1 million gift from alumnus Rick Sontag in 2011, makes a $50,000 award each spring to an entrepreneurial venture created by University of Nevada, Reno students.
Commonly, Tosun said, LaunchNevada grants awarded during the fall semester to support student entrepreneurs who expect to enter the Sontag Entrepreneurship Competition during the spring. Hixson’s Adventure Provisions was a finalist in the 2022 competition, and she plans to compete again this spring.
Applications for LaunchNevada grants are reviewed by a panel of faculty from across the University. Applicants, who must prepare a two-page proposal and identify the skills they will need on their teams, frequently are sent back to strengthen business plans before grants are approved. Tosun said those reviews often are just as important as the cash awards to the success of applicants.
Sheng Li, one of the winners of a LaunchNevada grant, said the application process proved invaluable to his creation of Highgienic LLC, a provider of cleaning kits for bongs and other accessories for users of legal marijuana.
“The application process forces an aspiring entrepreneur to stretch their mind and to think about all aspects of the business that they have not previously had to think of before,” said Li, an MBA student at the University. “It teaches how to develop a story, how to craft the reason for why a product like this should exist and to ensure you are providing enough value to the consumer.”
Among the many questions he addressed during the LaunchNevada process, Li said, were creation of a brand name and logo, the identification of reasonably priced suppliers, development of a high-performing website and analysis of potential profit margins.
The LaunchNevada funding helped Highgienic LLC build inventories and create a website to prove that its products are commercially viable.
"As the two-year-old LaunchNevada Initiative continues to evolve, leaders of the Ozmen Center are particularly focused on building awareness of the initiative across the campus. Students from all academic disciplines can apply for LaunchNevada grants or participate in the Sontag Entrepreneurship Competition," said Armina Karapetian, the Charles and Ruth Hopping Professor of Entrepreneurship at the University.
Among other steps, Karapetian said organizers are reaching out directly to representatives of each college on campus to explain LaunchNevada. LaunchNevada also hosts several networking events each year, usually during the fall semester, that feature inspirational speakers, information about entrepreneurial resources for students on and off the campus, and an opportunity to mingle with likeminded students.