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Business plan contest namesake Dominic Marrocco followed unlikely path to Las Vegas


Dominic Anthony Marrocco is perhaps most well-known for buying Mike Tyson’s mansion, where he once hosted a televised poker tournament.

But he’s also an honorary fellow at UNLV’s College of Engineering, where he teaches students about technology and business startups once a week.

He made his fortune in venture capitalism, intellectual property and information technology. He has operated dozens of businesses in England and the U.S., but he said his passion for entrepreneurship and philanthropy is what drives him.

“My motivation is not money,” he said. “It’s success.”

And that’s what he hopes to inspire in the Dominic Anthony Marrocco Southern Nevada Business Plan Competition.

The event is 5 years old, but when Marrocco donated $115,000 to the competition three years ago, officials tacked his name to the front.

This year’s winner, Skyworks Aerial Systems, collected $30,000 from Marrocco for their business, which develops indoor drones. The company received an additional $54,500 from donors.

“It’s really about the way in which you identify the obstacles that you’re going to face when launching and moving forward, breaking them down into components which you can pass, and prevailing,” he told the five finalists gathered on campus, as he announced the winner. “Never lose sight of your goal.”

Marrocco’s life-in-business story begins with someone unlikely to later address a college crowd. He was born in Leeds, England, left home at 15 and dropped out of school. By the time he turned 16, he started earning money by selling refurbished electronics in a kiosk at the British equivalent of a flea market.

“I felt my purpose was an entrepreneur,” he said of leaving school.

Two years later, he opened his own consignment store, selling video game and computer equipment. The business was so successful that he opened six more stores. By 21, he said, he had earned his first million dollars.

In 1996, he launched his first Internet service provider in the United Kingdom, and soon catapulted his way into the telecommunications industry.

For a man who lead such a fast life in his youth and acquired so much money that he could retire by age 30, Marrocco is surprisingly soft-spoken.

When asked how much he was worth during his first retirement, Marrocco said quietly, “I don’t know.” He prefers to keep his personal life private, otherwise “it wouldn’t be personal.”

Even his story about finding his home in the United States seems fanciful. About 10 years ago, Marrocco picked the first flight out of England he could find. That plane touched down in Las Vegas, and the cab driver showed him Tyson’s mansion, for which Marrocco paid $4 million.

He completed a business leadership course at Harvard when he was 36, and shortly after offered his help with the UNLV competition. Now 40 and out of retirement, Marrocco spends 51 percent of his time in Leeds and 49 percent of his time in the United States, mostly in Las Vegas.

Marrocco now serves as the vice chairman of Equiinet, a telecommunications company in Henderson, and he said he’s been pursuing opportunities to expand the business across Southeast Asia.

In the decade since he hopped on that flight, Marrocco has never really pursued living anywhere else. He loves the 24-hour city, finds the infrastructure “excellent” and believes the town appeals to creative minds.

“The best people in the world are here,” he said. “Las Vegas is really where I want to be.”

Contact reporter David Ferrara at dferrara@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5290.

 

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