Liz Lewis comes to UNLV from UNLV. She received her bachelor’s degree in business management in 2010 and her MBA in 2012. Now she takes on a new role at her alma mater as an economic development manager — a job that has her traversing the valley to meet with businesses and entrepreneurs who might benefit from collaborating with UNLV. Her office is at the Switch/Innevation Center in southwest Las Vegas, where UNLV’s Division of Research and Economic Development recently opened new offices to accommodate the team’s expansion. The Innevation Center is a 65,000-square-foot collaborative workspace and community event venue designed to help drive Nevada’s economy. The space is donated to UNLV by Switch founder and CEO Rob Roy.
Can you explain your role at UNLV?
I’m essentially a liaison. I play matchmaker between industry partners and UNLV researchers. When a new company is coming to Las Vegas, I find out what they need and see how we might be able to help. Maybe there’s a need to do serious computational analysis on our supercomputer, or maybe there’s something they could do with the Engineering College to develop certain tools, or maybe they just would benefit from student interns. It’s my job to find the right person for them to talk to and help make the necessary connections. UNLV has world-class researchers and research facilities available that the community doesn’t always know about. So I’m here to help fix that.
You’re a lifelong Las Vegan?
Yep, I’m homegrown, born and raised. When I did my undergrad at UNLV I said, “I think I’ll go somewhere else for my master’s.” But then I started getting more interested in what UNLV was doing. And when I was in grad school on an interdisciplinary tract, my eyes were opened to all these cool things that no one had any idea about, waiting to be discovered, and that really intrigued me.
When I was growing up, it felt like everything was for adults -— either gambling or partying — and that just wasn’t my cup of tea. But when I started going to UNLV, I saw there was so much more to Las Vegas than the entertainment industry and gambling. Now it’s become kind of a personal passion for me to show people that Las Vegas has a lot more to offer than just the Strip.
What’s your view of where Las Vegas and Nevada are now?
It’s exciting. There’s a whole vibrant, growing community out here. I felt it when I started in grad school. After some rather bleak years for Las Vegas, I was starting to see there was a future here, a lot of potential, and that feeling has only grown since then. There is so much entrepreneurial activity, so many bright people trying to make the world a better place. The stuff going on with the Downtown Project, and here at Switch and the Innevation Center, so many great minds are coming here. I’m excited to see UNLV becoming even more a part of that. I know we’re in the desert, but I think Las Vegas and Nevada are fertile soil for growth. UNLV is definitely heading in the right direction, and it’s hard not to want to be a part of that.
What is your favorite thing about Las Vegas?
Clearly the accessibility to just about everything. I can get whatever I want, whenever I want — any type of cuisine, any adventure. If I want to go hiking, there’s Red Rock and Mt. Charleston right here. If I want to go snowboarding, I can do that. There’s really nothing you can’t get here in Vegas, and if there’s something you can’t find, it’s going to be very close by. We’re four hours from Disneyland, three hours from Brian Head, two hours to the Grand Canyon, and Red Rock is even closer. I also love that nothing ever shuts down here. It’s a culture shock for me just visiting other places where things close at 7 p.m.
What do you do outside of work?
I’m very much a homebody, likely to be found sitting around the house drinking cocoa. I’m a city girl, but I grew up camping and riding 4-wheelers and motorcycles in the desert. My aunt had horses, so I grew up barrel racing, which at the time seemed pretty normal to me. But now looking back, I realize what a unique opportunity that was. Being born and raised in Las Vegas, I feel like I got the best of both worlds — urban and outdoor experiences. That’s the great thing about it here: You can escape Las Vegas without having to escape Las Vegas. It’s impossible to ever get bored here. Las Vegas is always changing and always evolving. So there is always something new, something to entice people here.
What does being a Rebel mean to you?
To me being a Rebel means not being satisfied with something just because that’s how it’s always been done. Thinking outside the box is part of our culture here, and that fits with an entrepreneurial spirit I love. How can we step outside the norm to build something bigger, something better, something greater? I’m a Rebel through and through, so I like to blaze my own trail.
What is it like working at the Switch/Innevation Center?
I really like it. You know it’s only five miles from campus, and UNLV’s footprint is expanding all across the valley. It’s a little more quiet without the students running around, but the incubator nature of this amazing facility is really energizing. We can hang out in a relaxed meeting space called the Zen room. We can hold large gatherings and events. It supplements what we already have at UNLV.
Oh, and the parking. Compared to campus, parking is much more accessible and user-friendly. Really, it’s amazing.