#StartupsEverywhere Profile: Kurtis Wankier and Kenny Eliason, co-owners, Work in Progress
This profile is part of #StartupsEverywhere, an ongoing series highlighting startup leaders in ecosystems across the country. This interview has been edited for length, content, and clarity.
A Startup Hub in Downtown Las Vegas
Many people think of Las Vegas as the entertainment capital of the world, but policymakers in Nevada are increasingly viewing the vibrant city as a growing hub of innovation for the state’s startup community. In downtown Las Vegas, entrepreneurs are increasingly flocking to coworking space Work in Progress (WIP) to put their creative talents, innovative ideas, and business acumen into action. Kurtis Wankier and Kenny Eliason, co-owners of WIP, have even partnered with the Nevada Governor’s Office of Economic Development to link European entrepreneurs with startup opportunities in Las Vegas. WIP’s focus on helping startups grow and connecting them with international entrepreneurs has provided Kurtis and Kenny with unique insights into the needs and wants of Las Vegas’ startup ecosystem.
What is Work in Progress, and what do you do there?
Work in Progress is a coworking, event, and office space located in fabulous downtown Las Vegas. WIP was founded in 2012 as a much-needed service for flexible professionals and businesses. It was created to support the overall vision for developing an inspirational, creative, innovative, entrepreneurial, and upwardly mobile community in downtown Las Vegas. The downtown location was actually the first coworking space in Las Vegas.
How have you interacted with your federal, state, and local policymakers?
After evaluating most of the coworking communities in Las Vegas, the director of the Nevada Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED), Chris Sanchez, selected WIP as its partner for global trade startups and business development. WIP has been the program’s host, and Kurtis has traveled to Poland linking entrepreneurs from Europe with startup opportunities in Las Vegas.
What’s the most exciting or important development that has happened to Las Vegas’ ecosystem in the last year?
Expansion of industry and the emergence of commercial giants have provided a significant lift to Las Vegas in the last year. Las Vegas is being viewed as a real metropolitan option thanks to a good business climate and successful acquisitions like the Las Vegas Golden Knights and soon-to-be Las Vegas Raiders. Entertainment, hospitality, and gaming still dominate. But the expansion of other industries is helping diversify the economy and culture of this awesome city.
Are there any policies at the federal, state, or local level that have helped either Work in Progress or Las Vegas’ ecosystem?
Generally, no state income tax in Nevada benefits WIP and business owners of all sizes. The last gubernatorial term was very pro-business.
Indications are that WIP’s partnership with GOED is likely to extend well into the future, which is something we are very excited about. It has been amazing working with the GOED and the businesses they have connected us with.
Can you Elaborate more on your work with the GOED?
The GOED has been working to diversify the greater business landscape of Nevada. Over the past several years, it has worked to recruit a number of Polish companies interested in launching U.S. businesses to choose Las Vegas. Not only are they renting space out of Work in Progress, but we partner with the Governor’s office to provide the necessary services to ensure they thrive. Our marketing arm helps them with admin and branding, we provide cultural education and training to help them navigate the cultural landscape with fluency, and also provide a community of support through our space.
Simply put, the Governor’s Office of Economic Development has been able to successfully lead the effort to recruit these foreign businesses because Work in Progress provides the necessary infrastructure to see it through.
Do you interact at a state or regional level with other ecosystem service providers?
Our primary contact with the government is through the GOED. This legislative session, Kurtis will be engaging with Nevada policymakers to discuss the small business climate and needs from our perspective. At least monthly, WIP hosts members of the Nevada government engaged in commercial improvement. GOED is even a member of Work in Progress!
Can you elaborate on your relationships with public officials in particular?
At times, our public officials will come through and see the space. This has been a part of our economic vision from the launch of our space in 2012. We are part of an effort to revitalize downtown Las Vegas. Though this effort has been privately funded, it has worked strategically with public sector leaders to combine efforts to strengthen Las Vegas’ future. We hope to deepen these relationships this year, beginning with Congressional Startup Week Across America!
What is the biggest challenge Las Vegas’ ecosystem still faces?
Economic diversity. Las Vegas needs more startups and support for small businesses. The rest of the world supports the mega consortiums. Small businesses need more successes building upon the business opportunities in the community, and they need support.
From a policy perspective, do you have any wishlist items for Las Vegas’ ecosystem?
Any policy that reduces barriers to entry, enhances growth opportunity, and makes small businesses more competitive is all we could ask for. Small businesses need competitive options for employee benefits and access to capital.
Engine works to ensure that policymakers look for insight from the startup ecosystem when they are considering programs and legislation that affect entrepreneurs. Together, our voice is louder and more effective. Many of our lawmakers do not have first-hand experience with the country's thriving startup ecosystem, so it’s our job to amplify that perspective. To nominate a person, company, or organization to be featured in our #StartupsEverywhere series, email email@example.com.