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Downtown Las Vegas startup hub shuttering office

One of the icons of the Tony Hsieh-driven startup community in downtown Las Vegas is closing its doors.

Work in Progress, a coworking space and startup hub on Sixth Street, is moving out of its downtown office on Friday. Like many other Las Vegas businesses and residents, the COVID-19 pandemic made it impossible to keep up with rent payments, owner Kenny Eliason said.

“We were at 75, 80 percent capacity before,” he said. “Then, March happens and we get the stay at home orders. … (and) everybody pulls their membership.”

While the location may be going dark, Eliason remains hopeful in the future of coworking spaces and Las Vegas’ startup scene as a whole.

The loss of a Las Vegas startup icon

Work in Progress opened with about 20 members in early 2013.

Back then, the Hsieh-backed Downtown Project — now DTP — was spending millions to revitalize downtown Las Vegas. The former Zappos CEO’s side venture has invested money in real estate, startups and small businesses, including Work in Progress.

“All startup ecosystems need hubs that can be used as not only general meeting places, but places where really young companies interact with each other,” said Leith Martin, executive director of UNLV’s Troesh Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. “(DTP) saw that as an important component in building that ecosystem.”

Eliason said Work in Progress was a frequent stop for Hsieh, a tech guru who died Nov. 27. When Hsieh would bring in tech celebrities to Las Vegas, the coworking space was often their first stop. Other big tech companies — including Google and Amazon — would host shows or events in the space, Eliason said.

“(It was) the most iconic startup building,” he said. “It was the hub for all things downtown, all things Vegas tech, all things Vegas startups.”

But when funding began to slow down, so too did the downtown startup community buzz, Eliason said.

Work in Progress was itself a work in progress, changing hands — and business models — twice since its initial launch. Eliason took over with Kurt Wankier in 2017, and said the two wanted to get back to the business’ roots with a stronger focus on the local startup community.

Business had been going well; Work in Progress had formed partnerships with UNLV and the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, and was home to a handful of Polish companies that had relocated to Nevada to work in the hub.

“We were profitable — for the first time, I think, ever,” Eliason said.

Then, COVID-19 hit.

Members began canceling their monthly memberships, and Eliason said Work in Progress lost 90 percent of its revenue “overnight.”

The business was granted loans, but Eliason said it wasn’t enough to keep up with rent.

Future of Work in Progress

Despite the hurdles, Eliason said he’s still optimistic about the Work in Progress’ future.

The business is launching two new coworking spaces in the Las Vegas: one at 6060 Elton Ave. that opens Monday, and a second location at 6605 Grand Montecito Parkway set to open soon after. Each location will offer fiber internet, coffee and snacks and networking opportunities.

Eliason said getting members to return has been a slow process with COVID-19 restrictions still in place, but he believes coworking spaces will be a big post-pandemic trend.

“The future of the work environment is remote work,” he said. “A lot of people are going to be working from home for the foreseeable future … (so) I still think there will be a place for coworking now more than ever.”

Eliason also wants to continue reviving the company’s focus as a startup hub. Before the pandemic hit, he said the company was in talks to receive grant funding to begin a startup accelerator. He hopes to revive those discussions soon.

“We think downtown has a future as a startup community, once everything settles down,” he said. “Recently, we’re seeing slower, but more steady growth. … (Las Vegas is) a town mixed with so many people from so many different places. When they come together and collide, there’s a great startup hub there.”

It has yet to be seen how Work in Progress’ move will affect Las Vegas’ startup scene, which had largely been focused on the downtown area. Martin said the startup community is still growing — it’s just spread across the valley now.

“The startup ecosystem has matured a little bit. It’s not as centrally located, it’s not as loud as it once was, but it’s matured,” he said. “It’s a little more sustainable.”

Contact Bailey Schulz at bschulz@reviewjournal.com. Follow @bailey_schulz on Twitter.

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