When most people think of U.S. tech hubs, Silicon Valley, Seattle and Boston come to mind.
Las Vegas used to fall far down on that list, but thanks to companies settling and expanding here, it's starting to creep higher.
The valley is experiencing a startup boom that has produced entrepreneurs who, sometimes with minimal capital, are building tech companies. Many are focused on social media, but other ideas are being hatched as well, including mini-robots, video streaming and Internet-based phone services.
"Everyone has their own thing they want to go after," said Pin Tan, a Las Vegas lawyer who helps clients acquire patents and trademarks and who himself develops mobile apps.
The companies are shining a spotlight on Las Vegas' burgeoning geek scene and helping people realize that the valley is about more than just glitzy casinos and foreclosed homes.
The 800-pound gorilla is Henderson-based online shoe and apparel retailer Zappos, which is expected to shift 2,000 employees to its new downtown headquarters next year. No other nongaming tech firm employs nearly as many people. Additionally, Zappos is fueling much of the recent buzz. Its executives are financing startups, planning real estate projects and attracting new businesses downtown.
Despite the activity, it will take years before Las Vegas makes it into the upper echelon of tech cities, if ever. Startup founders need piles of capital and talented engineers to make a go of it, and both are in relative short supply in the valley. Many local firms are self-funded and earn little revenue, making it nearly impossible to hire whiz kids from Stanford University or MIT, who often are lured with big salaries to heavyweights like Google and Apple.
Tech startups also have a famously high failure rate, and even promising companies and products sometimes flop or stall.
In July, tech blog GigaOM profiled several up-and-coming local startups. One was Counterless, whose iPhone app lets people order meals from their cell phones. Only four months later, founder Chris Shepherd said the Counterless team had "decided to work on other projects."
Others are still getting attention. Romotive, which makes an iPhone-controlled robot that interacts with people, received national press attention after it raised $5 million from investors, including the high-profile Silicon Valley venture firm Sequoia Capital. Its robot, known as "Romo," also was picked for Neiman Marcus' holiday catalogue.
Then there's data-center operator Switch, which has hundreds of clients. Founder Rob Roy has since designed the "inNEVation Center," a 40,000-square-foot working space for entrepreneurs, economic development officials and academics slated to open next year. He also formed the investment group NV Angels.
Roy has inked at least one deal so far, putting $500,000 of his own money into Las Vegas social media startup Tracky, which offers customers ways to organize their lives, including to-do lists, calendars, data storage and task management.
VEGAS INC took a look at some other tech firms that are making waves -- or at least hope to.
The Internet streaming company was founded in 2000 by Mio Babic, a 6-foot-8 native of the former Yugoslavia, after knee injuries ended his pro basketball career.
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