On Inventing Your Future – Literally

Two big events are taking place at UNLV over the next few months and they represent a real opportunity for you to choose a different path.  One is the Governor’s Cup Business Plan Competition. The other is the College of Engineering’s Senior Design Competition. Both contests involve significant prize money and are designed to encourage students to create new products and start successful businesses. Until recently, both competitions underachieved.  Engineering students would create prototypes of new products that never made it to a market launch. Business students would create plans for life-style enterprises that required little capital, showed little imagination and drew little interest from Governor’s Cup judges or venture capitalists.  In a competition that includes college students from around the state, LBS students rarely stood out.

Then one day, Dean Rama Venkat of the College of Engineering invited me to lunch to discuss how we might bring business and engineering students together in ways that would encourage them to start businesses.  The idea had a lot of potential.  Engineering students know how to make things, but lack a strong understanding of consumer wants, how big the market might be, and where to get the financing and managerial talent to get a product to market.  Having a patent on a new product, process, or design innovation is great, but that doesn’t mean that you are going to make any money from it.  Business students don’t know how to make things.  So their business plans focus on “fictional products” or they rely on what they know: life-style businesses such as restaurants, spas or personal services. If we could figure out a way to get business and engineering students talking to each other and competing together to create new businesses focused on new products, great things just might happen.

As is typically the case, Deans talk and others do the real work. In this case, for LBS, the two key people are Professor Andrew Hardin, Director of the UNLV Entrepreneurship Center and Dr. Janet Runge, program coordinator for our Global Entrepreneurship Experience.  Dr. Hardin teams MBA students with engineering students and inventors in the community.  Dr. Runge, spearheads our Governor’s Cup teams. The results of their efforts have far exceeded out expectations: LBS swept the Governor’s Cup Competition last year; two of the senior design competition teams have started businesses; and Scuba Solutions and Geyser Flow Control have won the Southern Nevada Business Plan Competition-a contest open to everyone in Vegas.  Venture capitalists have taken notice and students throughout LBS have caught the entrepreneurship bug.

To give you a sense of just how big a deal this has become: Once a month, President Smatresk hosts campus tours that highlight the great things going on at UNLV and show how we are helping to grow and diversify the Nevada economy.  Every tour ends with the Deans of Business and Engineering introducing students who demonstrate their new products and explain their market potential to media people, legislators, and members of the business community—every tour.  As a student, you could not get better publicity for your ideas.

Resolve to invent your future.  Seek out Dr. Hardin and Dr Runge, tell them you want to get to know some engineers (or scientists if you are really brave) and be involved in these events.  Rather then work for someone else after college, you can take a risk with some capital, start your own business, and chart your own course.

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