At 5 a.m. Sunday, UNLV sophomore Roxayna Pais and her make-a-thon team huddled inside the school of architecture, piecing together bits of foam boards and typing the finishing touches to lines of code.
She had been awake for more than 20 hours to construct a prototype for UNLV’s first Las Vegas Make-A-Thon. Sixty-eight students participated in the weekend-long event, where they shaped business plans, developed programming and built prototypes ranging from a kitchen thermometer that told jokes to a compressor bin that turns scraps of meat into dog food.
Pais and her two teammates presented a system that alerts users if food has expired. Despite her sleep deprivation, the architecture major said the event made her more interested in undertaking entrepreneurial endeavors.
“I’m more into this than the actual architecture stuff,” she said. “It might (lead to a different focus in school), but I don’t know yet. I’m still exploring.”
Vincent Kwan, board director of UNLV’s Rebel Venture Fund and an event organizer, said one of the main goals for the Las Vegas Make-A-Thon was to ignite an entrepreneurial spirit in students.
“We wanted to help students think that there’s more to do in Vegas besides work in the hotel industry or work on the Strip, to think more entrepreneurial-minded,” he said. Ultimately, it’s about “getting students to see there’s opportunity here.”
The three-day event drew students from seven different colleges at UNLV to the Paul B. Sogg Architecture Building, where teams competed for prizes — including prototype materials and mentorship opportunities — and learned about prototyping, pitching and more from a number of speakers.
“We’ve learned a lot,” said Jannah Bowen, a junior business and German major who created a mat prototype that measures the freshness of produce. “It’s very tiring, for sure, but the payout is great. … It gives young entrepreneurs the opportunity to really sit down and put what they learned in school to use.”
Zach Miles, associate vice president for economic development at UNLV, believes there will be more hack-a-thons in Las Vegas as its startup scene continues to grow and the university continues to expand its focus on entrepreneurship. UNLV launched its Global Entrepreneurship Experience in 2009, and announced plans for expansion for its Center for Entrepreneurship in 2017.
Another hack-a-thon competition at UNLV is scheduled to begin Thursday. While make-a-thons have physical prototypes, hack-a-thons are solely focused on programming.
Miles said he’s seen a larger interest in entrepreneurship from students at the university, making events like the Las Vegas Make-A-Thon possible.
“You’ve got more innovative individuals with entrepreneurship in mind,” he said. “The timing and the culture is right.”
A 2017 report from the Kauffman Index of Startup Activity listed Las Vegas as the metropolitan area with the fifth-highest startup activity. Kwan said the increase in interest in hack-a-thons is a sign there’s more to come.
“It’s a good indication that our entrepreneurial scene is growing,” Kwan said. “We’re seeing so many interested. There’s more excitement.”
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