Lee School Prize Competition to reward entrepreneurs for ideas combatting COVID-19 impacts on hospitality, travel, entertainment industries

Lee School Prize Competition to reward entrepreneurs for ideas combatting COVID-19 impacts on hospitality, travel, entertainment industries

Photo Credits: MARIO RODRIGUEZ / AGGIE

Highlighting innovation, entrepreneurship during a pandemic

Commercialization of innovation has become more and more relevant with researchers and medical professionals constantly thinking of ways to help the public through the innumerable challenges posed by  COVID-19. In order to award and motivate such efforts, the Doris and Ted Lee Family Foundation developed the Lee School Prize Competition in collaboration with the Lee Business School at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV).

“Whenever […] disruption takes place, oftentimes innovation is accelerated because sometimes there’s needs that currently exist as a result of things like this pandemic that didn’t exist just a mere two months ago before the pandemic hit the country,” said Leith Martin, the executive director of the Troesh Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at UNLV. 

Aside from established companies, individuals and start-up companies from all fields are welcome to participate in the competition, Martin said. A total of $1 million will be awarded out in multiple investments for innovations that help hospitality, travel and entertainment industries offer their services while still staying safe, according to a press release. The competition opened on May 11 and will accept submissions until July 5.

“We hope that the competition […] provides an opportunity to assist entrepreneurs in moving their products into the marketplace [to] help facilitate the rebound of the hospitality travel, entertainment, food and beverage industry,” Martin said. “At a much greater stance, we hope that the competition allows individuals, organizations, to hopefully come together in such a way that the impact might be greater than just the competition itself.”

Jenna Makus, the associate director at the Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at UC Davis, said that despite drawbacks due to the pandemic, the institute has been figuring out creative ways to keep their programs and curriculum running. 

“We laugh a little bit right now that we’re being forced to be innovative in the same way that we ask all our students and participants,” Makus said. 

Makus explained that their department, which is under the Graduate School of Management, is built around the power of the network and facilitating collaboration. Alumni across the country are able to participate in their programs through online mediums, allowing for the institute’s network to grow through the pandemic.

“One of our taglines that we say a lot is ‘uncommon collaborations is the birthplace of innovation,’” Makus said. “We’re trying to get creative about still allowing those networks to happen even though we’re all in our houses.”

Makus also acknowledged UC Davis for facilitating collaborations across different fields to tackle problems that are affecting people around the world. Makus said she believes that this pandemic has pushed people to recognize inequities and encourage them to take steps to remedy them. For example, she has seen students being understanding of their peers’ limitations in accessing remote resources.

“Recognizing that big diverse teams need to come together to solve world problems, that’s an assumption here,” Makus said. “There are lots of ways that it’s being pushed out in programs and initiatives, so I think that’s great.”

 Written by: Michelle Wong — science@theaggie.org