In late January of 2020 – just weeks before a mounting COVID-19 pandemic would shut down the world – UNLV opened Black Fire Innovation at the university’s Harry Reid Research & Technology Park in southwest Las Vegas.
A who’s who of tech leaders, elected officials, researchers and community leaders gathered to celebrate UNLV’s new four-story innovation accelerator, which – in partnership with Caesars Entertainment – paired academic research and industry together like never before in a high-tech proving ground for new concepts in gaming, hospitality, esports, and entertainment. Many in attendance heralded Black Fire, with its mix of research, office, and co-working spaces, as the springboard to a new era of economic development in Southern Nevada.
The pandemic may have had other plans for the Nevada economy in 2020, but the seeds of momentum born that day continued.
In fact, Black Fire became a place where COVID-era innovation sprang to life. There, UNLV researchers and a growing number of industry partners – including Caesars, Intel, Panasonic, Nutanix, Adobe, and more – tested technology to remotely disinfect hotel rooms, protecting both guests and staff. They pushed the limits of innovation by partnering with the Lee Family Foundation and the Lee Business School on a competition to spur hospitality innovation – including a promising idea for fully recyclable bed sheets – and help drive a post-pandemic Las Vegas economy.
Elsewhere in the building, UNLV’s Small Business Development Center staff worked with hundreds of local entrepreneurs and small business owners to navigate state and federal funding opportunities, move operations online, adjust business plans, and give them the boost they needed to power through the pandemic storm and keep their companies afloat.
Since joining UNLV in August of 2020, I’ve been committed to supporting my economic development team, our researchers, and dozens of dedicated public and private industry partners. They’re working together to fuel what is now, two-plus years later, Southern Nevada’s economic renaissance.
Universities often talk about economic development, but it’s not always so easy to see it happening “in action.” Black Fire is different. There, you can witness – often from the moment you step inside – student and faculty innovation being tested alongside emerging technology from more than 100 of the world’s top companies and thriving startups.
Black Fire is an incredible facility filled with remarkably talented professionals that exemplifies the potential of UNLV’s research and economic reach.
And Black Fire is just one example. Throughout our campuses on Maryland Parkway and Shadow Lane, at the UNLV Incubator at Hughes Center – and at Black Fire in the Harry Reid Research and Technology Park – we’re engaged in research and economic development that works for Nevada.
Take cybersecurity, for example. In the last couple years, we’ve launched academic and professional certificate programs in this high-need, high-impact field, and we’ve taken it a step further by pairing faculty and students with our Small Business Development Center to offer a free cybersecurity clinic for small business owners. In physics, the UNLV team responsible for unlocking the mystery of room-temperature superconductivity – a boon for a clean, efficient energy future headquartered in Southern Nevada – continues to inch its world-changing work closer to reality from a lab here on the Maryland Parkway campus. And just two buildings over, our educators are tackling the chronic teacher shortage by pioneering new ways to fill K-12 classrooms with dedicated school paraprofessionals by creating a pathway for them to complete their bachelor’s degrees and become licensed teachers.
It’s these programs, and many more like it, that show how UNLV is adapting to support a post-pandemic Nevada. Our goal is to be nimble to workforce and industry needs and laser-focused on developing more innovation, new businesses, and dynamic educational experiences for our students.
Black Fire represents what’s possible when motivated people from the public and private sectors come together with a passion to do something that’s never been done before. When innovative minds meet, it’s an exciting thing to see. As I think about what’s been achieved in just a couple of years at Black Fire, and throughout our footprint in Southern Nevada, I get goosebumps imagining how UNLV and our partners can have this same impact in healthcare innovation, sports research, and other areas that will help to ensure that we diversify our economy as we continue to rebuild it.
I’m certain that the crowd gathered for Black Fire’s opening in early 2020 had no idea what would be in store for our community, and the world, just weeks later. But I do know this: the promise they saw in UNLV and the power of partnership that day is now being realized. Great cities have great universities and UNLV is answering the call for Las Vegas and Southern Nevada.