Editorial: At last, tech transfer is poised to live up to immense promise - Albuquerque Journal

Editorial: At last, tech transfer is poised to live up to immense promise

For years, New Mexico’s extensive scientific infrastructure — the state’s national labs and three top-tier research universities — has been touted as a springboard for developing cutting-edge technologies into marketable products through new startup companies backed by capital and expertise.

There have been successes, but far fewer than New Mexico’s economic development community had hoped.

That may soon change, thanks to a $100 million investment by the State Investment Council in the newly formed venture firm America’s Frontier Fund. Finally, “tech transfer” has the potential to become a very big deal in the Land of Enchantment. And the SIC is playing a large role in that.

The AFF team has formulated a plan to make New Mexico the centerpiece of a national initiative to develop “frontier technologies” that will define the future — things like micro-electronics, artificial intelligence, quantum sciences, new energy and synthetic biology.

Speaking to the SIC on Nov. 22, AFF CEO Gilman Louie laid out a vision of a new virtual Silicon Valley, with New Mexico as the hub.

With the highest concentration of scientific talent per capita in the nation, the state has “untapped world-class research and development and patents,” Louie said.

This is a common refrain we’ve heard before. But this time, there is money and the expertise to back it up.

The AFF team — made up of nationally renowned venture investors, scientists, technologists and policy leaders — is united around a foundational mission of rebuilding global U.S. leadership in critical technology development. AFF is raising $500 million to create long-lasting public-private partnerships that bring together the talent, expertise and capital to unleash U.S. innovation in the country’s heartland.

“It’s headed by luminaries and investors with real experience and track records of success,” SIC member Harold Lavender told the Journal.

Louie is the former CEO of the Central Intelligence Agency investment firm In-Q-Tel. He currently heads the venture firm Alsop Louie Partners. And he’s chaired the Federation of American Scientists for the past 15 years, while also previously serving as a commissioner on both the Congressional Commission on R&D for the U.S. intelligence community, and on the National Security Committee on Artificial Intelligence.

Ex-Google CEO Eric Schmidt, Pay-Pal co-founder Peter Thiel, and former IBM CEO Samuel Palmisano are all backing the AFF. So are former U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, former U.S. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and other top executives from federal agencies.

With the SIC’s new $100 million commitment, AFF will immediately begin constructing a network of “venture studios,” said AFF general partner Norman Winarsky, a longtime venture investor based in California. The network will be called Roadrunner Studios.

“We’ll create a series of hubs with New Mexico as the headquarters backed by technical resources and talent, venture investors, entrepreneurial advisers, coaches and legal systems for business development,” Winarsky told the Journal. “In today’s world, it can all be done at a distance, with New Mexico being the central hub for Silicon Valley 2.0. I live in Palo Alto, and I believe this is the time.”

While it’s heartening for New Mexico to be recognized for its technological potential, the biggest upside is that AFF is committed to establishing the ecosystem that tech transfer needs to thrive. If successful, it adds an exciting dimension to New Mexico’s economy.

“We’ll find the technology and the people and create a company around them,” general partner Steve Weinstein told the Journal. “That’s our core talent. We’ve already done it many times in many other places.”

Let’s hope the Land of Enchantment can take advantage of this innovative investment, and that it truly is the game changer its supporters say it is.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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