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Sandia, AFRL join UNM I-Corps program

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The University of New Mexico I-Corps program is helping Sandia National Laboratories scientist Adam Baker hit the fast track to market with new technology to radically accelerate DNA sequencing. Baker joined the UNM I-Corps program this fall as one of the first lab scientists to benefit from a new partnership among the university, Sandia and the Air Force Research Laboratory to help speed commercialization of new technologies.

Both Sandia and the AFRL are sponsoring one team from each lab to join the crash, 10-week course, which offers workshops, mentoring, networking and hands-on experience to test and build marketing strategies for new products and services.

The program began in 2017 with a $440,000 grant from the National Science Foundation that allows the university to provide $34,000 per semester to finance up to 10 teams of students, faculty and business mentors. Each team receives $3,400 to conduct intense market research and development for emerging technologies either developed at UNM labs or conceived by students. Those that show market viability for their innovations and needed business acumen become eligible to apply for NSF grants of up to $50,000 to continue their work.

To date, 20 student teams have participated, with nine more now enrolled.

This fall, both labs asked to “piggy back” on the program, each paying for their own teams, said Lisa Kuuttila, president and CEO of the Science and Technology Corp., UNM’s tech-transfer office.

“Each lab is providing $5,000 per team,” Kuuttila said. “We expect them to increase the number of teams that participate over time.”

It’s the latest collaborative effort among UNM and the labs, which are now co-located in the Lobo Rainforest Building at the Innovate ABQ research and development site Downtown, where STC and UNM’s Innovation Academy manage the I-Corps program. Both labs have significantly stepped up their tech-transfer initiatives through Innovate ABQ, said Jackie Kerby Moore, Sandia manager for technology and economic development.

“It’s another example of how UNM, Sandia and the AFRL are all working together at the Lobo Rainforest Building to deploy more of our technologies into the marketplace,” she said.

Adam Baker’s DNA sequencing technology won first place at Sandia’s second annual lab pitch competition, held at Innovate ABQ in September.

“Through the I-Corps program, Adam can now take the next steps in marketing this technology,” Kerby Moore said.

For the AFRL, the I-Corps process can help “tease out” commercial applications for military technology, said Matthew Fetrow, director of AFRL’s technology engagement office. The AFRL team is exploring potential medical and remote-sensing applications for heat-seeking, mid-infrared lasers used to defect incoming missiles.

“It’s a very-structured, 10-week program that will help us better understand customer pull for our technologies,” Fetrow said. “It’s another tool in our tech-transfer tool box.”

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