If Downtown ever hopes to become the mini tech hub that Tony Hsieh hoped for three years ago, the answer lies with Jen McCabe and her latest project.
I’ve written about McCabe before. She’s the Energizer Bunny who helped launch Romotive, the iPhone robot maker that started in Las Vegas more than two years ago.
VegasTechFund—the tech arm of Downtown Project—invested in Romotive, and as the company took off, its founders took off, too, moving to San Francisco in 2013. They thought the tech world of Silicon Valley was better suited for their office toy.
McCabe stayed here.
Her choice was interesting on several levels. At least to me, McCabe has always been one of the strongest voices in support of now-defunct DTP investment principle “return on community.”
“I moved here for community, community, community,” she told me a year ago.
McCabe is unabashed—as her Facebook friends know—in her praise for the friends she’s made here and the supportive community she has found. What separates her, too, from many of the other techies Downtown is that her focus has evolved. Some Downtown tech people create apps you may or may not use if you remember to push some buttons on your cell phone—apps that let you bowl against someone in China, for instance, or grow more Twitter followers.
Though Romo, the Romotive robot, is an office toy that isn’t going to save anyone’s world, it was unique Downtown in this way: It was tech you could put your hands on.
With Romotive, McCabe got invaluable experience navigating the Byzantine world of tech production by spending months in China on Romotive’s behalf (the company builds its devices there). Now she heads VegasTechFund’s Nimbus portfolio, which provides seed money for all things hardware: Skycatch drones, for instance, or Scanadu, which makes medical tech devices for regular folks.
Recently, she announced the conversion of a 25,000-square-foot space at 920 S. Commerce St. into Factorli, a project that could put Downtown on a tangible tech map.
Factorli comes with a $10 million investment courtesy of Hsieh, and its aim is to create a “channel for companies to manufacture new products in small volumes before commercial mass production.” McCabe is founder and CEO.
Her experience with Romotive shows through in a quote that came with the announcement of Factorli’s founding: “Many companies fail at this stage when they discover how difficult it really is to make hardware. We’re here to help you get through the tough part. We also have the benefit of manufacturing in the U.S., so there are IP protection benefits to working with Factorli—plus there are no language, time-zone or geographic barriers. Because it’s in the U.S., things that are hard overseas, like visiting, working with customs and transferring payments, are easy here.”
You can see how that kind of talk would appeal to entrepreneurs in early-stage plastics and circuit boards. And to politicians.
In June, President Obama singled out McCabe, who was invited to the White House with others to demonstrate 3D printers and other manufacturing technology, saying Las Vegas could become the center for “a revolution … in American manufacturing.”
If it does, McCabe will be one to credit. And if and when it takes off, don’t expect her to follow suit.
McCabe will stick around, but you can bet she won’t be resting on her laurels.