UNLV reveals winners for inaugural Lee Prize Nevada Innovator Award

LAS VEGAS—The UNLV Lee Business School, based here, has awarded creators across the globe with the inaugural Lee Prize Nevada Innovator Award. The award was created to find the latest innovations to make the food & beverage, hospitality, casino, sports and entertainment and travel industries a safe place for both guests and employees post-COVID.

The competition was created by The UNLV Lee Business School and the Ted and Doris Lee Family Foundation to advance recovery across these industries. Heavily involved in the Las Vegas community, the Lee family has its hands in everything from real estate investment and development to operating casinos, hotels and restaurants. The foundation also supports community projects in parks and recreation, intercollegiate athletics, education and the arts.

The Lee School Prize Committee, a team made up of industry veterans,  chose the award winners, who are expected to bring their product or idea to market within 12 months.

“Greg Lee and his family from the Ted and Doris Lee Family Foundation reached out to members of the Lee Business School soon after closing started to take place across the United States,” said Leith Martin, executive director, Troesh Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, University of Nevada Las Vegas. “We put together a group to discuss what we can do both as a community and as a university to help in the recovery of industries that are important to Southern Nevada. Those initial discussions ultimately led to the organization of the Lee Prize. It was important to discover and fund innovative technologies and solutions that make the food & beverage, hospitality, casino, sports & entertainment and travel industries a safe place for employees and guests in the post-pandemic world.”

The Lee Prize received more than 250 submissions from 32 states and nine countries. The winners received $975,000, allocated based on need, potential impact and market-readiness. The $25,000 balance of the money will be used to host another event to assist other innovations that solve problems not yet addressed during the initial call for entries.

Among the winners:

GoodWRX—an app-based work scheduling software that simplifies job sharing

Hotel Data Cloud—a global hotel content distribution database that gives hotels control over listings on any booking channel

Maidbot—cleaning robots that also provide key data to management

Promethium—a virus-capturing HVAC system

Purlin—one-time-use bedsheets that are recyclable

A sub-set of the Lee Prize—the

Nevada Innovators Award—recognizes these teams with $25,000 each.

Nevada Innovators Award:
• Simple Technology
• Hayon Manufacturing
• Volan Technology

Judges for the prize included Wolfgang Puck; Steve Aoki; Vegas Golden Knights owner William P. Foley II; Allegiant Air CEO Maurice J. Gallagher Jr.; and Bill Hornbuckle, CEO/president, MGM Resorts; among others.

“These experienced individuals provided insight into which submissions could potentially have the greatest impact and be the most likely to be successful in bringing a product to market,” Martin said.

The group decided which teams would be presented to the prize committee, Martin said, with the prize committee ultimately determining who the winners were via a couple rounds of evaluation.

For the hospitality industry specifically, a major concern is when and how corporate travel will pick up. Many believe that the industry will not recover until business travel resumes, but when it finally does, the industry will face a host of new challenges.

“Given the massive impact COVID has had on the world and the industry, hospitality executives are rethinking operations,” said Micah Estis Green, CEO, Maidbot, an award recipient. “Tech innovations will help the hospitality industry adapt more quickly to our new world and improve many different areas from the guest check-in experience to cleaning protocols. Leaders are working to ensure that travel is extremely safe, clean and hygienic while delivering a positive, memorable guest experience.”

According to Green, Maidbot’s Rosie technology brings engineering innovations together into a comprehensive robotics system.

“We are honored to have won the Lee Prize, and I am so proud of our team,” Green said. “The Lee Prize Award offered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to help solve major challenges the hospitality industry faces in a COVID and post-COVID world. It’s exciting to be part of an initiative that is working diligently to support and strengthen the industry.”

Volan Technology, another award recipient, won for its advanced solution for enterprise-scale, precise and private contact tracing software enabling hospitality operators to make improvements in virus prevention and save money in manual tracing.

“In-person meetings are greatly concerning due to the potential risk of exposure of COVID-19 to attendees,” said Volan CEO/cofounder Michael Bettua. “Manual contact tracing is slow, inaccurate, costly and causes meeting planners to send out mass communications to potentially non-exposed attendees as they cannot confirm if they were exposed or not. The patent-pending technology that Volan offers can provide meeting planners the power to give their attendees safety and peace of mind as they return to group meetings. The technology is incredibly easy to install and implement and contact tracing results are returned in seconds. It also doubles as an analytics tool giving even more value to planners and convention spaces to offer as a tool.”

The pandemic has surely done its damage across many industries, and not just with business closures and restrictions, but with new considerations and challenges. The Lee Prize site outlined some of the other concerns on hoteliers’ minds:

Will guest pillows need to be disposable or will people travel with their own pillows?

How will we valet park cars so it is safe for the valet and the guest?

• How do we clean a hotel shuttle bus?

How do bellmen clean and handle guests’ luggage?

How do we best clean and sterilize hotel rooms?

As travel resumes, hospitality leaders are now looking for quick and efficient solutions to these issues, which this award hopes to advance.

“Anytime you are dealing with such an unexpected and disruptive event as the current pandemic, there will be opportunities for innovations that can be brought to market quickly to solve urgent needs,” Martin said. “Technology can be used to quickly solve problems that either didn’t exist before or are more acute.” HB