UNLV’s mission to help students bring big ideas to life took a step forward Sept. 29 with the opening of the UNLV Incubator at Hughes Center.
The unique space, and an accompanying network of faculty and industry support, will help aspiring student entrepreneurs bridge the crucial stage of the innovation process between promising concept and business reality.
Think about it like this. Students at UNLV come up with potentially marketable ideas every day through work in their classes, when developing a thesis or dissertation, or while engaging in research. A few of the best and brightest concepts eventually make their way to Black Fire, UNLV’s innovation accelerator at the UNLV Harry Reid Research & Technology Park. But many others stall out before they get there, perhaps due to a lack of funding or because they needed a little extra help understanding what it takes to build a business or navigate the regulatory landscape.
That’s where the Incubator comes in. Located in the Hughes Center business complex just northwest of UNLV’s campus, the newly opened 5,500-square-foot space becomes the bridge – or launchpad – to move projects from great ideas to bold new businesses.
“We have students today who’ve come up with extraordinary ideas, and some of those ideas can spawn new industries in our state, and others can lead to solutions for big problems,” said Robert Rippee, executive director of the UNLV Incubator and Black Fire Innovation. “Whoever has a solution to a problem – regardless of their discipline – we want to bring them into our innovation ecosystem and help them build a business. My message to students is this: you’ve got a great idea – now let’s go do something with it.”
Students and recent graduates are encouraged to apply to the UNLV Incubator. If accepted, they’ll have access to the space at Hughes Center, curriculum, and a professional support network. Though the Incubator is just days old, the first cohort of 12 students is already at work modeling ways to build their businesses and to bring their ideas to the marketplace.
Incubating a More Resilient Economy
The Incubator debuts at the perfect time, as Southern Nevada redoubles its effort to diversify and strengthen a local economy stymied by the crippling impact of the pandemic. Combined with explosive growth at Black Fire – which is now partnering with more than 70 leading tech and hospitality companies – and on-campus research and teaching, where ideas are formed, UNLV is poised to play a leading role in the region’s economic rebound.
“We have now built a university-driven innovation ecosystem that serves not only the university community, but our community more broadly as we seek to diversify our economy and answer the call from our community that’s been so devastated by the economic ravages associated with COVID-19,” said Bo Bernhard, UNLV vice president of economic development. “From this building, this Incubator, we will innovate our way out.”
UNLV launched the Incubator in partnership with EQ Office, which manages the Hughes Center and is repositioning the space to attract and empower Las Vegas’ top talent.
“Las Vegas is a remarkably experiential place and huge consumer of innovation, particularly in hospitality, technology, and gaming. We want to invest in this community, help attract and retain key talent in this region, while also expanding the start-up ecosystem,” said Lisa Picard, CEO of EQ Office. “By teaming up with leading universities like UNLV that are pushing the envelope in student-led innovation, we want to be a catalyst for job preparation, entrepreneurial training, and, importantly, business formation.”
A Launchpad for Bright Ideas
The Incubator will also be the UNLV home to the Blackstone Charitable Foundation’s LaunchPad network, an entrepreneurship and skill-building program that offers fellowships, mentoring, pitch competitions, live speakers’ series, and more to 30 participating schools nationwide. The Lee Business School’s Troesh Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation will manage the partnership for UNLV.
“These combined efforts tap into the entrepreneurial spirit of UNLV students and will undoubtedly help them strengthen their skills to compete in the global market — and create and increase economic opportunities for others along the way,” said UNLV President Keith E. Whitfield. “We’re creating a pipeline of savvy, innovative business leaders ready to tackle the challenges of the 21st century economy.”
UNLV opened its new Incubator Sept. 29 in front of more than 100 university researchers, students, local business leaders, and entrepreneurs gathered to mark the occasion. As Rippee put it, events like these, and others in the coming months, will allow UNLV to “incubate the incubator,” to advance networking opportunities and attract the creative students who will make good on the promise of the university’s burgeoning innovation ecosystem.
And while Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak couldn’t attend the event in person, he attended virtually and issued a bold challenge to UNLV students attending the event.
“Stay the course, stay resilient, and invent Nevada’s future. We are relying on you.”