The questions come quick.
What’s the theme? How many people are coming? Did you find the speakers? Did you secure the venue? For free?
We’re forced to be quick on our feet as Rebel Venture Fund (RVF) team members when we host a networking event.
Do we have enough food? What about the flyers? How did we forget the name tags!
Each semester, RVF hosts Venture Friday, Startup Saturday, and numerous networking events. Hundreds of entrepreneurs, investors, company executives, and students from UNLV attend.
And for every social mixer, dedicated RVF students work hard make the event run smoothly. The students, many of whom have no experience in event planning when they join the team, must find the resources, connections, and finances to host each event. So of course . . .there will be chaos.
Amid all the buzz, you’ll find RVF executive director Matthew “Matt” Fritz taking care of the speakers and managing the agenda. Matt is calm and collected as he goes with the flow, listening to the team’s game plan and improvising if those well-meaning plans go up in flames. At the end of the day, Matt commits to one trait that most leaders cannot essentially handle – complete and absolute trust in the RVF team.
Matt is an MBA student focusing in new venture management at UNLV, and he’s led the RVF since August 2018. He has experience in entrepreneurship as founder of the radioisotope company, ISO Evolutions. His current day job is as a nuclear scientist at Mission Support and Test Services, a U.S. Department of Energy contractor.
I spoke with Matt about RVF’s mission, its gateways to the next Silicon Valley, and his fascination with nuclear science.
Explain your role with RVF and why you joined.
As executive director of RVF, I oversee multiple directors and overall general fund operations. I interface with the fund, the university, and the UNLV Research Foundation – which supports RVF – and the RVF management advisory board. Outside of RVF, I work as a scientist in the safeguards department for the U.S. Department of Energy, essentially as the steward of nuclear material.
Because I had a business before I joined RVF, I didn't want to give up that life entirely. My goal was to stay in the startup space, and I saw RVF as a great way of doing that. It’s such a unique opportunity for students that I just jumped at it. From day one, I did anything I could to support the fund. Then director positions opened and I applied immediately. It was so exciting to stay connected to the venture capital world after I was done with my first business.
As an entrepreneur and former business owner, I have experienced the highs and lows of the industry. This experience enabled me to anticipate possible pitfalls and opportunities with investments.
How do the seemingly disparate fields of nuclear engineering and venture capital work together?
The way that I would link the two together is that the nuclear field is risk-averse - whether it's working for the government or in the private sector. Identifying risk or possible areas of risk are second nature when you work in the nuclear industry, and it’s a skill I can apply to venture capital.
When you get a pitch from a company, entrepreneurs may not be completely forthright about all the nuances of their business. The ability to quickly sift through the talking points to identify risk has allowed me to anticipate possible issues, dig a little deeper, and offer additional avenues in our evaluation of potential partner companies.
How has your time with RVF contributed to your personal and professional growth?
It’s been great to work with a diverse set of companies, both those we’ve invested in and others looking for help that we can guide along. One of the greatest opportunities has been the network of people – the community that we have grown through our events and activities, the portfolio companies and their teams, and the RVF advisory board. They all provide a great connection to what’s going on in the community and have helped my career significantly
Why should students join RVF?
Students who join RVF get hands-on experience working in a diverse group of future professionals, and I guarantee they’ll learn new skills that can be applied to any field. Being able to learn in a real-world setting, with real risk and real rewards, is a major benefit.
Students also become a part of the community. We are pretty active in the community, and our internal network and ties through the management advisory board is huge. They are some of the most successful people in the Las Vegas Valley and they dedicate their valuable time to help our development. If you pick up the phone, our board is very communicative and will always help you with a problem.
Why should startups get invested in a UNLV-based VC fund?
Most major cities have several universities that can help companies make connections in the community. Here, connecting with UNLV means that you’re really plugging into the Las Vegas community. Whether it’s through RVF, our advisory board, or the Lee Business School, UNLV serves as a hub for connecting people to the organizations and individual contacts that can help them.
Another major benefit companies find in working with us is our people. We’ve had a number of RVF students that have gone off to work for board members, local Las Vegas startup companies, you name it. We’ve built this reputation at RVF where we’re young and maybe somewhat inexperienced, but we won’t be outworked by anyone and we know that we can provide value not only in local businesses, but in our local community, too.