Udacity: Reno pilot shows the future of tech job training

Above: Udacity CEO Vishal Makhijani speaks at the rollout of Blueprint, a VentureBeat event being held Sept. 11-13 in Reno, Nevada

Retraining is often held up as a salve for those laid off when factories close, stores shutter, or when businesses pick up and move overseas. But what if job training was treated not as an event, as in teaching coal miners to code, but rather as a critical, ongoing part of keeping a local workforce employed, one that could lessen the need to retrain fired workers for entirely new careers? Udacity CEO Vishal Makhijani says this challenge arrives at a critical moment for the U.S. economy. “The core hypothesis we have as a company is that society has to embrace lifelong learning,” Makhijani told VentureBeat, describing how his company has partnered with the burgeoning tech community of Reno, Nevada, and how it’s a test case for potential partnerships with other cities.

“I think we have to try not to say ‘How do we save 3,000 driving jobs?’ We say ‘How do we train people to do the next job?’” said Makhijani, who spoke Wednesday at a VentureBeat gathering to launch its Heartland Tech channel and upcoming Blueprint event. Makhijani appeared onstage with Brad Stone, senior executive editor at Bloomberg. The gathering was part of VentureBeat’s editorial initiative to explore the economic and tech divide between Silicon Valley and the rest of America.

“We can educate folks with these skills for $2,500 a pop. We don’t have to spend $50-60,000 or $70,000 a year to do that, and if you think about duplicating that model in a bunch of different categories, we can do this. This is not about the classic cost structure,” Makhijani said.

Known as “The Biggest Little City in the World,” Reno has been staging an economic turnaround of outsized proportions, slashing its 14 percent unemployment rate of five years ago to 3.9 percent as of this April. Last month, the city and the online learning company launched Udacity Connect: Reno-Tahoe, which offers a three month, part-time full stack web developer Nanodegree or certificate. The program involves online classes, as well as in-person collaboration for projects and mentoring, and is specifically designed…

3 Reno startups thriving beyond Silicon Valley

This is a picture of the famous sign in Reno, Nevada, a city whose nickname is

Silicon Valley loves to talk about what makes it special: great universities nearby, a networked VC community, quality of life. But rising rents and crowded freeways have strained that, just as other emerging tech hubs are enticing not only startups but the talented workers who want to work for them.

After years of drawing in educated tech workers, some areas of the Bay Area faced an emigration of workers in 2016, according to U.S. Census data. That’s not only enticing some startups to set down roots outside major tech centers like Silicon Valley and New York, but to find talent who want to put down their own roots in more affordable soil.

Three Reno, Nevada-based startups discussed these themes during a panel discussion at a VentureBeat event to launch its Heartland Tech channel ahead of the 2017 Blueprint conference. At the gathering, founders of the companies told their stories of growth outside the world of tech metropoleis.

The bootstrapped biker

In 2011, Nate Pearson was training for a triathalon. But the $20 per class fee was a little steep for the recent University of Nevada grad, so he came up with a solution: He wrote his own workout software do help him perform training on his own. Not long after that, he recruited his former training coach and launched TrainerRoad, which allows cyclists to do power-based training in their own homes.

Above: TrainerRoad CEO Nate Pearson

Since then, TrainerRoad has grown to 56 employees and become a net-profitable enterprise – all without any venture or angel funding. Instead, Pearson and his co-founders bootstrapped the company with $10,000 they scraped together and have since financed its growth through cash flows.

In contrast to the invest-to-grow-fast attitude of many Silicon Valley startups, TrainerRoad hires employees as it can afford to and markets to a niche user base through its podcast and a support staff that responds to mentions of the app on biker forums. Engineers are recruited via sites like Stack Exchange, mostly hailing outside the Bay Area.

“It’s possible to build a successful startup without VC investment and hiring in the Bay Area,” Pearson told VentureBeat. “There’s not just one way to do it, especially if you’re not shooting for the moon.”

That approach also allows TrainerRoad to focus on training its customers without worrying about investor exit strategies. Its next goals are incorporating more outside analytics and adding more planned workouts. “We may not become a unicorn,” Pearson said, “but we’re expanding on what we’ve built…