When Andrew Baca graduated from UNLV in 2007 with a bachelor’s degree in international business, he thought he was set. And with his own successful web and mobile development and design company, 3rd Estate, why wouldn’t he be?
But then the clock struck midnight of 2008. The Great Recession turned Baca’s business into a pumpkin. He volunteered with the Lee Canyon ski resort’s mountain patrol for a while and then spotted a market need in rehab services for the sudden surge of foreclosed properties. But he knew that wasn’t sustainable. Yet he couldn’t find the more traditional job in hospitality he was most interested in because those companies simply weren’t doing a lot of hiring then.
Baca knew he had to change the approach he was taking to his career, so with some income from rehabbing houses, he returned to his alma mater. He decided to pursue a master’s degree in informatics, which combined elements of computer science and information technology with outside disciplines such as criminal justice (cybersecurity), biology, health care, and even fine arts.
“It was a little divergent from my undergraduate business and marketing background, but informatics is a very promising academic area for someone who wants to work in technology, even if not in an engineering role,” he said.
Baca studied informatics with an emphasis in new venture management and rounded out his degree with a certificate in business intelligence. By 2011, his last year in grad school, he’d landed a job with the Las Vegas Sands Corp. as a corporate e-commerce project manager.
“The job was a great way to take what I was learning in school and what I wanted to do and combine them with my marketing and retail background,” he said.
Meanwhile, a student team led by business professor Andrew Hardin had been given a $500,000 endowment to start a venture fund, but they needed some help on the tech side to launch it. Cue Baca.
Drawing on his marketing background from his bachelor’s and combining it with his master’s training in informatics, Baca helped establish the Rebel Venture Fund, UNLV’s student-led venture capital fund. He designed the logo and website, handled the tech migrations with investment platforms, determined the governance structure, and more.
The Rebel Venture Fund launched in 2012, after Baca had already graduated, but he has stayed involved. He helped assemble the first student board, developed a business and succession plan for the fund, and participated in the recruitment process for new students to manage the fund—students from all disciplines.
“It's important to the success of the fund that other perspectives are a part of the conversation,” he said. “Working on the fund is hands-on learning, and every student should have the opportunity to take advantage of that.”
After graduating from UNLV a second time, Baca worked his way up to senior manager with the Las Vegas Sands, and from there went into the startup world to launch what became the world’s largest Western hunting website, goHUNT.com.
Now, as the director of business innovation and technology strategy for Caesars, he is part of a team that evaluates emerging technology and business models for the company, including blockchain technology and esports. He works closely with UNLV’s International Gaming Institute and has also recruited one of his interns from the Rebel Venture Fund.
Baca’s still doing a little of this, that, and the other on the side as well — like volunteering as a board member for the Nevada Medical Center and starting his own Hatch green chile company. The New Mexico native launched Enchanted Chiles a few years ago because he still feels a strong connection to his native state … and he just really loves the Hatch green chile. He gives 20 percent of his gross profits back to organizations that support New Mexico’s farmers.
“I think it's important to do as much as you can,” he said. “I try to do things outside of what would normally be expected, and I encourage everyone to take as many opportunities as they can to travel, to volunteer, to try things outside of their areas of study, to get involved. That kind of wide-ranging interest is an incredibly attractive quality to see in someone, not just in the job world but in general networking and on a personal level.”