UNLV business incubator seeks to encourage young entrepreneurs

In an office complex just east of the Las Vegas Strip, UNLV students work diligently to bring new business ideas to life.

One group is working on an innovation in sports betting, while another is pursuing an idea of ​​food security.

“New businesses, such as those that may emerge from this incubator, would help diversify our economy,” said Robert Rippee, executive director of the UNLV business incubator at the Hughes Center.

“We could change everything from tax revenues to the perception of the Las Vegas job market. There would be a lot of benefits to incubating new businesses here, ”said Rippee.

The role of the incubator is to help bridge the gap between an entrepreneurial idea and the transformation of that idea into a viable business. This is a public-private collaboration between UNLV and EQ Office, the real estate investment company of Blackstone Inc ..

EQ Office owns some 80 office buildings, including the 68-acre, 1.5 million square foot Hughes Center office campus. The UNLV incubator, a set of modern offices and technology-oriented meeting rooms, was presented to the public for the first time last week.

The first entrepreneurs, all students of the UNLV, started to meet there at the beginning of the month.

“The possibilities are endless,” said Rippee. “We want people to think about solving big problems. If your idea is good enough, we could bring you into the incubator and help turn it into a real business opportunity.

To be considered, teams must apply and be accepted into the program. Members must be UNLV students, although those criteria may change, Rippee said.

“Most startups fail, but it’s usually not because they came from a bad idea,” said Rippee. “It’s often because people have a bad business model. From there, ideas can fall apart pretty quickly.

Students do not receive academic credit for their work at the incubator, but they do have access to the expertise of Rippee and others from the Office of Economic Development at UNLV.

While almost any idea will be considered, Rippee, a former Las Vegas Sands marketing manager, said concepts related to the gaming, hospitality, transportation and retail industries stand out.

The incubator is located minutes from the Strip, home to some of the world’s most recognizable brands in these areas.

“If we talk about these areas, there probably isn’t a better place in the world,” Rippee said. “There are resources here, potential customers here, potential labs to test an idea. For games, hospitality, entertainment, retail, and the tech that supports all of these industries, it’s all about a block away. “

Vivienne Kwong, a commercial real estate professional for EQ Office, said the idea of ​​partnering with UNLV came about about three years ago.

“The general idea for the Hughes Center is that we want to create a collaborative community,” Kwong said. “We wanted to have a place where industries and innovators could connect. We thought of reaching out to the educational community, which we did. When you think of entrepreneurs and innovation, this is sort of where you start. An intermediate piece was missing, that’s what we were for this incubator.

While he has high hopes for the program, Rippee said it will also take time to get it started. “In a sense, we’re incubating our incubator right now,” he said.

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