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UNM tech-based startups remain at record high


ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The University of New Mexico’s technology transfer office reported another solid year of growth for fiscal year 2017, which ended June 30.

The number of startups formed with UNM technology remains at a record high for the second year in a row, with 12 new businesses launched. Licensing agreements for companies to take UNM inventions to market, and patents issued by the federal government, are also both up compared with FY 2016, as are invention disclosures by university faculty and staff.

Still, the Science and Technology Corp., UNM’s tech-transfer office, faces significant challenges in retaining more startups marketing university technologies in New Mexico. Of the 12 companies formed last year, eight went out of state, said STC President and CEO Lisa Kuuttila.

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“We tied last year’s record with a dozen new startups, which is great for a mid-sized research university like ours,” Kuuttila said. “The bad news is only four of the new startups this year remained in New Mexico.”

That largely reflects the low-level of venture funding available here, Kuuttila said. The State Investment Council’s new Catalyst Fund, which provides equity for venture firms offering early-stage financing to local startups, will help going forward. But the state still faces a capital crunch when it comes to private equity.

“We have more money flowing through the Catalyst Fund, and that’s wonderful, but it’s just not enough,” Kuuttila said.

That’s particularly true for many life science companies, especially those taking new drugs to market, which can be a long, expensive process.

Of the eight startups that left the state this year, three are marketing new cancer pharmaceuticals created by the UNM Health Sciences Center. The four that remained here are marketing new software technology, innovative materials for solar cells and genetic-testing services for horses.

On the upside, STC signed 58 licensing agreements with entrepreneurs to market UNM technologies this year, up from 54 in the previous fiscal year. That’s the second-highest number of licenses in a single year since STC launched in 1995.

Patents issued to UNM reached an all-time annual high of 73 this year. And the STC reported 114 invention disclosures by faculty and staff, up from 102 last year.

That reflects the entrepreneurial culture now gripping UNM, said serial entrepreneur and STC board member Bob Nath.

“The STC has created an atmosphere that’s encouraging graduate students and scientists to form businesses,” Nath said. “That’s a great achievement. It’s changed the perspective of business as a desirable academic pursuit.”

Royalties and patent income declined somewhat, from $2.55 million in FY 2016 to $2.05 million this year. Overall, the STC earned $11.24 million in the past five years, compared with $$12.13 million from FY 2008 to FY 2012.


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