Clean-cut and close-shaven, Leith Martin doesn’t immediately evoke the image of a tech entrepreneur, however, Las Vegas itself doesn’t immediately conjure the image of a tech hub, and yet the two are a perfect fit. It was in the owner president management (OPM) program at the Harvard Business School that Martin met Dominic Marrocco (of the Dominic Anthony Marrocco Southern Nevada Business Plan Competition and several successful business ventures). During the program, the two founded UBIQUITA (now EQUINNET), a technology company providing integrated voice and threat management services for businesses, and set the headquarters in Las Vegas.
Now, six years later, he joins UNLV as the new director of the Center for Entrepreneurship at Lee Business School. He serves as the center’s primary spokesperson and leads the design, development, and implementation of universitywide curriculum, programming, competitions, and other entrepreneurial-related activities. In addition, he is responsible for growing critical relationships with entrepreneurship stakeholders and directing the student-run Rebel Venture Fund.
I moved to Las Vegas six years ago, and my wife and I really like the community. Our kids are active in things like dance and music and swimming, which are really strong here.
The reason I joined UNLV is because I had seen all the changes that had taken place in the last few years. The new president is very focused on entrepreneurship. We have an economic development and tech transfer department that’s being built at UNLV and a new dean of the business school who is also focused on entrepreneurship. I feel that UNLV is at a particular point in its history where great things are going to happen here and I feel like I can contribute in some way.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in a really small, rural town in Alabama. In fact, it wasn’t even a town. I milked the cow every day and worked on the farm.
There were only 26 people in my graduating class in high school and less than 300 in K-12. When I went to school at University of Alabama, I was the only one to go to college from my high school class. I didn’t know a soul there.
What inspired you to get into your field?
I think I always wanted to be an entrepreneur because it gave me control of my own life. I really enjoy growing a business and starting a company. I do not enjoy maintaining a business; I don’t consider myself an operator.
The last company I was involved with (in Alabama) was quite successful but at one point we had grown very rapidly and there was very little additional market share to capture, so I was bored. I went to the program at Harvard Business School to figure out how to identify opportunities to do something different or figure out how to identify a way that I could sell or exit the business I was currently in.
It was after college that I decided that I didn’t want to work for a big company. A lot of people, I think, feel like a big company is security, but the way I saw it was that if I was in control of my own destiny I’m (more likely) to be successful than if I’m one of 50,000 employees.
What’s the biggest misconception about your field?
Facebook or Google. Those are anomalies that were successful, but in reality millions of companies fail.
Entrepreneurship is hard. It may or may not be financially rewarding. We look at Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), Paypal, and Google as the beacon on the hill that we hope to obtain, but the reality is that those levels of success are few and far between and as an entrepreneur we should be focused on building the most successful organization we can and a place we want to work.
One tip for success?
Have personal awareness. I believe if we are honest with ourselves then we are more capable of understanding the level we are able to achieve. So honestly assess commitment, motivation, desire, or purpose in pursuing a goal, then one has a greater opportunity to reach their goal.
What would people be surprised to know about you?
I have five kids ranging in age from 15 years old to 4 years old. I coach Little League baseball and for some reason in Las Vegas it surprises people that I was born in Mobile, Alabama.
Who was your favorite professor or teacher and why?
One of my favorite professors was Lonni Strickland who taught Strategy in the MBA program at the University of Alabama. The first day of classes he said, “There are no more excuses allowed. The dog ate my homework doesn’t work. I didn’t feel well so I couldn’t show up isn’t a correct response because these won’t work in the real world if you want to be competitive.”
He also always said, “When doing a market analysis or market survey, beware of a sampling of one,” which meant always remember that it doesn’t matter what you alone think because there are millions of others who think differently. Don’t dismiss a business idea because you alone don’t think it will work without analyzing whether there is an opportunity there.
Who is your hero?
I would have to say my dad. I’m the oldest of seven and every one of us went to college. Several of us have post-graduate degrees and we all graduated with zero debt.
We contributed to our own education by working as teenagers and during college, but he contributed substantially to our education. He did the majority of that through self-sacrifice and I look back at how hard he worked during his career as an engineer and there were many times that I could tell that my parents went without because they wanted to make sure that when we started our careers that we started at a different level than when they started. So that’s who I would say is my hero, specifically my dad, but really both of my parents.
Pastime or hobbies
I have five kids.
Between my wife and I we basically operate a full-time Uber service. We take kids to baseball games, dance competitions, swim and piano practices. So that’s pretty much a full-time job. My kids are my hobby.