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New UNLV incubation hub to help students turn ideas into reality

Updated September 29, 2021 - 8:45 pm

UNLV is hoping to bring a slice of Silicon Valley to Southern Nevada with the opening of a new incubation hub.

The university, in partnership with EQ Office, on Wednesday unveiled the new UNLV Incubator at the Hughes Center, a space that will act as a bridge to take students’ innovations in tech, hospitality, gaming and and more from concept to business reality.

It’s a place “where ideas will be incubated into companies of the future,” said hub director and UNLV professor Robert Rippee.

To Rippee, the incubator was the missing piece in the three-step process of taking concepts to market: idea generation, incubation and finally acceleration and scaling.

UNLV had plenty of the first step, thanks to its student population and researchers. And it had the third, with its Black Fire Innovation hub where students, startups and companies are able to test technology in the gaming and tech fields in mock environments.

“So now we have all of the pieces in place to make that happen,” Rippee said.

The 5,500 square feet of incubator space sits within the Hughes Center and is minutes away from both UNLV and the Strip, providing easy access from campus and no shortage of networking opportunities. But its location is also a boon because of who the students will be surrounded by in the 68-acre Hughes Center campus, Rippee said.

The portfolio of companies in the Hughes Center offers opportunities for private industry participation in the incubation process, including mentorships and direct participation.

“It’s about connecting the students’ ideas with the business,” said Vivienne Kwong, director of portfolio management for EQ Office, a subsidiary of global investment giant The Blackstone Group.

The first cohort of students — 12 students split over four teams — started at the hub last week, and a second cohort of 12 is slated to start next month. The hub offers an abundance of technology and co-working spaces for students and guidance as they work toward creating a business model for their ideas.

Some of those concepts being worked on by the students include applying artificial intelligence to the meeting and convention industry and one that is developing a safety device that they hope will address “one of the areas that accounts for more injuries in training than just about anywhere else,” Rippee said.

UNLV Vice President of Economic Development Bo Bernhard said that the hub will not only provide benefits for the students but long-lasting benefits for Southern Nevada’s economy.

“We’ve built something unprecedented here in Southern Nevada,” Bernhard said Wednesday during a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the incubator. “We have not built a university-driven innovation ecosystem that serves not only our university community but our community more broadly as we seek to diversify our economy.”

The incubator isn’t solely for tech and hospitality concepts. Applications to be part of the hub are open to any academic discipline on campus, from liberal arts to law students and everyone in between.

“If you come up with a great ideas, you’ve got a place to take it as your next step,” Rippee said.

Contact Colton Lochhead at clochhead@reviewjournal.com. Follow @ColtonLochhead on Twitter.

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