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UNM tech transfer expands impact on local economy

A new study by the University of New Mexico’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research shows UNM’s technology transfer program is having a noticeable impact on the local economy.

bizO-RobinsonAvila_Kevin_BizOBBER’s new report, published in June, estimates that 26 startup companies that formed with UNM technology since 2005 helped sustain 147 jobs with about $8.55 million in wages and benefits in 2013.

All told, those companies generated about $18.44 million in local economic activity last year through direct, indirect and induced impact on the economy.

“We have a good number of active businesses in New Mexico,” said Lisa Kuuttila, president and CEO of UNM’s tech-transfer office, the Science and Technology Corp. “Many are still at the early stages of development, but a number of them have matured a lot and are growing a great deal.”

KUUTTILA: Impressive impact on economy

KUUTTILA: Impressive impact on economy

In fact, BBER’s impact estimates may be conservative, since only about half of the nearly 50 STC-related startups in New Mexico participated in an online survey that provided much of the raw data for the report.

“Some of the more mature companies didn’t participate, so the sales numbers and overall impact could be considerably higher,” Kuuttila said. “But even without that, the impact on the New Mexico economy is impressive. The technology transfer program is creating good, attractive jobs in terms of salary and diversification of the economy, and that, in turn, creates many supply-related jobs in businesses that support the startups.”

BBER also did not calculate the economic impact of an estimated $17.5 million in venture funding raised by STC-related startups as of 2013. That money is typically spent on infrastructure, product development and salaries, but it’s too difficult to determine how much of it was spent last year and how much will be used in future years, according to BBER.

This is the third such study of the tech-transfer program, which UNM launched in 1995. BBER published previous economic-impact reports in 2004 and 2011.

The latest study, which included data from the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions and the Bureau of Economic Analysis, said UNM’s program is helping to grow the state’s high-wage industries, such as information technology and life science-related businesses.

BBER reported that average compensation for the 83 people directly employed at STC-related startup companies was $71,065 in 2013, compared with the state’s average compensation of $52,765.

Economic impact likely will expand more in coming years, given the rapid growth of UNM’s technology-transfer program. Statistics on program achievements, which STC publishes each fiscal year ending June 30, show marked momentum in the past decade, particularly during the past five years.

Graduate student and research assistant Ted Schuler-Sandy prepares substrates, or platforms, the research team at UNM's Center for High Technology Materials will use to make chips. (Albuquerque Journal File)

Graduate student and research assistant Ted Schuler-Sandy prepares substrates, or platforms, the research team at UNM’s Center for High Technology Materials will use to make chips. (Albuquerque Journal File)

The latest statistics for FY 2014, released in July, reflect a slight decline in activity compared to FY 2013. That year, STC reported record achievements in number of licenses awarded to investors to commercialize UNM technology, number of patent applications filed by UNM or issued by the U.S. Patent Office, and total invention disclosures made to the STC by faculty and staff.

Even so, most of those metrics remain much higher than at any other time in the last 10 years. And the accumulated totals for the past five years from 2010-14, compared with the previous five-year period from 2005-09, show double- and triple-digit growth in nearly all categories.

Income from licenses and patents are up more than 200 percent, license agreements 78 percent, issued patents 182 percent, and patent filings 46 percent.

School of Engineering Dean Joe Cecchi, an STC board member, said the increase in invention disclosures and patent activity reflects a major change in university culture as more faculty and staff discover the value of technology commercialization.

“It takes a while, but over time, the program’s direction and the progress achieved is unmistakable,” Cecchi said. “The STC has created a favorable environment that helps inventors and startups connect with the broader economic development community, and that helps to push the commercialization process in general forward.”

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