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On the Move

Robb Smith: Visionary venture capitalist

By Melanie Supersano

It doesn't seem quite possible. At 27, Robb Smith (Finance '97) has been a venture capitalist since age 23. And Nevada Ventures, the venture capital firm he co-founded, has already been able to give his alma mater $300,000 in seed money to start the Nevada Ventures Nanoscience Program, a "bleeding edge partnership," as he puts it, "that is doing novel work in nanoscience and includes a research agenda that has attracted top students and partnerships, including NASA and Oak Ridge National Labs, to the University of Nevada, Reno."

Smith co-founded Nevada Ventures, LLC (formerly Millennium Three Venture Group, LLC), the leading venture capital fund in Nevada, with former College of Business Administration (COBA) instructor Chris Howard. Ever since he has used the fund as a powerful vehicle to bring about social change.

Yes, you read that correctly. Smith is passionate about making Nevada a better place.

"If you bring the capital market to bear on intellectual property and intellectual development and you include K-12 and higher education, the amount of social transformation that you can effect on a per capita basis in less than a decade is profound," he explains.
Nevada has to compete in a global, geopolitical arena, whether it likes it or not, he says.

"It's quite simple," he explains. "If you want Nevada to be a leader and not a laggard, have an abundance of educational funding, not a dearth of educational funding, be fiscally wealthy not fiscally poor, you have to cater to those industries that disproportionally create socioeconomic wealth in the 21st century."

The new millennium will be built on the shoulders of past industries, but winning economies will be those that can compete in the information/technology age.

"It's going to require a vibrant private equity market to grow technology companies," Smith notes.

Nevada Ventures' first priority is, of course, making profit for its investors, but the vision Smith and Howard have includes developing wealth for all Nevadans by funding companies and programs that give residents, students and businesses a compelling reason to stay in Nevada.

Smith credits his success to his education, passion, persistence, and a lot of good people. "I am blessed to work with Nevada's most talented people. Chris Howard is my partner now, but he was my mentor going through school. Also, Mike Reed (dean of COBA) sits on our advisory board, we work closely with Linda Brinkley (vice president for research) on our nanoscience efforts and President John Lilley has been instrumental in making the university a great place to implement public-private partnerships."

Lilley says of Smith: "He is an impressive young alumnus who embodies the entrepreneurial spirit. He is deeply committed to building a high-tech economy in Nevada and doing everything he can to help the university be a major player in this endeavor."

Last May, Smith was named Nevada's Young Entrepreneur of the Year by the U.S. Small Business Administration.


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