Can you name a business that grew out of a college dorm? Your first thought might be of Facebook, famously started by a 19-year-old sophomore at Harvard University, or of Snapchat, sparked in the minds of two Stanford University students, or even the satirical media company The Onion, sprouted by two University of Wisconsin juniors. But what about the “next _____” that just didn’t have the resources and support it needed to grow? For young entrepreneurs, taking a marketable idea from concept to reality can prove a daunting task.
With a vision to help emerging entrepreneurs bridge the gap between the initial brainstorm and the marketplace, educators and business leaders are trying out a new approach: hybrid workplace-classrooms.
With a vision to help emerging entrepreneurs bridge the gap between the initial brainstorm and the marketplace, educators and business leaders are trying out a new approach: hybrid workplace-classrooms. “Hundreds of brilliant ideas emerge from students’ minds each year that have been shelved and left for someone else to reinvent, because they don’t know how or don’t have the resources to bring their concepts to life,” explains Robert Rippee, executive director of Black Fire Innovation and head of the brand-new UNLV Incubator powered by Hughes Center®. “The Incubator is the solution for that in-between phase, when students need to hone their business plans and design.”
Grand Opening of UNLV Incubator powered by Hughes Center®
And with that, the commercial real estate industry and academia are jointly cultivating the next generation of business innovators. Their mission: to foster entrepreneurial environments that will facilitate connections and access to resources – and turn ideas into realities.
The Concept: The UNLV Incubator, Powered by Hughes Center®
Out in the Mojave Desert — not far from the buzz of iconic casinos, world-renowned restaurants, and jam-packed concert venues — sits one of the country’s top research institutions: the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. In addition to topping national lists of the nation’s most successful research universities, UNLV is making a name for itself as a hotbed of student innovation. It’s a place where great ideas can flourish.
Hundreds of brilliant ideas emerge from students minds each year and have been shelved … because they don’t know how or don’t have the resources to bring their concepts to life. The Incubator is the solution for that in-between phase, when students need to hone their business plans and design.
Students who walk onto campus with the germ of an idea in their mind and an entrepreneurial spring in their step will discover all the resources necessary to prepare for the professional road ahead. The brand-new UNLV Incubator, which made its debut on September 29, is located in the 68-acre Hughes Center®, a unique mixed-use business community. It was created in collaboration with EQ Office to provide students the physical facilities and experiential learning opportunities to develop their very own business concepts.
Intended to encourage entrepreneurship in a collaborative, resource-rich surrounding, the UNLV Incubator is a student-focused incubation and innovation space. It will function as the launchpad for the university’s established Black Fire Innovation Hub, which gives students and startups a place to test gaming ideas and technologies.
Rippee explained that the premises are perfectly suited for iterating and running tests, which are such a vital part of the process. He emphasized that the hands-on nature of the Incubator environment is critical for pre-professional students, as is the opportunity to work on projects across a variety of disciplines.
The Approach: Student Innovation in Three Parts
Rippee knows that his students — and their capstone projects — will benefit from occupying space in hybrid office-classrooms that are tailor-made for entrepreneurial learning. The three-step process of innovation will empower students to bring their business idea to a collaborative, resource-driven space that will fuel creativity: from ideation to incubation and acceleration.
Intended to encourage entrepreneurship in collaborative, resource-rich surroundings, the UNLV Incubator is an entirely student-focused incubation and innovation space.
During the “ideation” step, both undergraduate and graduate students will enroll in one of the university’s many innovation classes to develop an idea (this could also take the form of a research project or thesis). Next, during the “incubation” phase, students can apply to the Incubator, and once accepted, they will have full access to the program’s space, technologies, support and network. The final phase, “acceleration,” involves concept development; students are encouraged to apply to accelerator programs, showcase their work and progress and network within their industry.
The Space: Designing a Workplace-Classroom Hybrid
So, what does a workplace-classroom hybrid look like? The 5,500-square-foot space was designed by the Las Vegas architecture firm EV&A. The firm has been recognized for excellence in design, and is guided by a philosophy of creativity, innovation and efficiency. While the Incubator is of course located near a university campus, the space has the distinct feeling of a workplace.
“[The architects] did a masterful job in creating that transition space for students who are coming from an academic environment and transitioning them into a professional environment — one that looks like a professional office space but is very conducive to the activity they will be doing,” said Rippee. “There is a co-working space, a row of offices where mentors and subject matter experts are officed, and places for one-on-one meetings.”
In addition to the office-like layout of the main space, those using the Incubator have access to the Hughes Center®’s HC Social, an indoor-outdoor lounge outfitted with a coffee bar and beer/wine dispensers, as well as HC Oasis, a lush park featuring hammocks and shady trees.
Kellie Wanbaugh, vice president at EV&A, explained that part of the inspiration for the design of this building came from the firm’s approach to Black Fire Innovation Hub, which she sees as a “relative” of the Incubator. “The ideas at Black Fire were a neutral palette, with sparks of color. And so we took that concept of pops of color and variety of shape to the Incubator. We went more triangular, something different and interesting,” she said, “partly to identify different areas and also to give life and movement.”
It’s that life and movement that makes the Incubator so special. “It’s a little bit of fun and whimsy,” said Wanbaugh. “We didn’t want to design it as stuffy or serious — an office space doesn't need to be either of those things. It sparks imagination.”
[The Incubator space has] 'a little bit of fun and whimsy,' said Kellie Wanbaugh, vice president at EV&A. 'We didn’t want to design it as stuffy or serious — an office space doesn't need to be either of those things. It sparks imagination.'
Other innovative design features include acoustic, felt-paneled light fixtures, because an open-plan layout can be loud. The walls feature acoustic paneling, which helps to absorb ambient noise and makes it easier to engage in conversation.
The Future: Ripple Effects of Job Development
In recent years, business studies have become the major that is most popular with today’s students. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, nearly 400,000 of roughly 1.9 million bachelor’s degrees in 2017-18 were business-related. The introduction of focused crucibles for innovation within academic institutions has a wealth of benefits both for students and for universities.
UNLV is in good company; prestigious institutions like Dartmouth College (with its PhD-I Innovation Program and the Magnuson Center for Entrepreneurship), Stanford University (Innovation and Entrepreneurship Program) and the University of Michigan (Center for Academic Innovation) have thriving programs that, similarly, provide students with a fertile patch of ground where they can pool their energy and enthusiasm, share insights from different disciplines and refine their ideas for market.
Lisa Picard, CEO of EQ Office
These classroom-offices offer a modern take on job development — simultaneously preparing young people for a successful future in the workplace while sparking opportunities for our cities, communities and local businesses.
“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.”
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