UNLV gets knocked for being late to the party on some things. For years, being known as a great business and hotel college seemed to be just fine. But with the recession, critics have questioned a community, university and school system that seemed never to take science and technology seriously enough.
Now UNLV is entering the territory many universities have mined for decades—economic development, and more specifically turning those bright ideas that can come from university researchers into patented concepts and ultimately commercialized products.
This is the goal of the school’s new Office of Economic Development, says Tom Piechota, UNLV’s vice president of research and dean of the graduate college. The recently inaugurated office is about a year in the making and hopes to achieve the status of the MIT’s of the world, schools that have created billions of dollars of economic activity from the ideas of both students and professors.
The office is an outgrowth of a coordinated effort between the school’s business college and engineering program that creates business plans for practical technological breakthroughs. Now the new economic development office will pursue investors and business partnerships for ideas ranging from new document-scanning technology to a biochemistry advancement that prevents disease spores from spreading in hospitals.
Jim Thompson, the former CEO of the RAND Corp., is on board as a consultant. Thompson says even a handful of companies spawned locally could be game changers for the university’s image while bringing some much needed diversity to the local economy.
“We have an advantage here where we can move very quickly,” he says. “We can learn a lot from those who have done this already.”