innovation and entrepreneurship may have ignited with the Innovate ABQ initiative in Downtown Albuquerque, but the fire is rapidly spreading statewide.
The state’s three research universities and national laboratories are working with government officials to expand Innovate ABQ – which aims to build a bustling, high-tech research and development district in the heart of Albuquerque – into a joint project to promote entrepreneurship, homegrown startups and economic development throughout the state.
The partners will pool their resources and capabilities into an umbrella initiative dubbed Innovate New Mexico, where entrepreneurs and investors can rapidly access technology and human talent statewide to build new businesses. The initiative will be coordinated from an office at Innovate ABQ once the Downtown site begins operating, but users will be plugged directly into the broader research network.
The partners want to make New Mexico the go-to state for innovation, said Lisa Kuuttila, the University of New Mexico’s chief economic development officer and head of the Science and Technology Corp., UNM’s tech-transfer office.
“Innovate New Mexico will be located at Innovate ABQ, but it will provide the front door to all our research institutions and economic development initiatives,” Kuuttila said.
The office will include a coordinator to help entrepreneurs and investors search for emerging technologies, and locate experts at the labs and universities in all fields of research, from photonics and water to energy and medical diagnostics, Kuuttila said. It will also manage an umbrella website that links to all online resources at state research institutions.
Representatives from all the participating organizations met in September to start building the network. Apart from UNM, that includes New Mexico State University, the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology in Socorro, Sandia National Laboratories, the Air Force Research Laboratory at Kirtland Air Force Base and Los Alamos National Laboratory.
The state is participating through the Economic Development Department’s Office of Science and Technology, which coordinates the state-funded Technology Research Collaborative. That program, which also includes representatives from the state’s research institutions, works to identify and promote opportunities for moving locally developed technology into the marketplace.
“We’re working collaboratively to convert New Mexico’s innovations into economic prosperity,” said Office of Science and Technology Director Patricia Knighten. “We recognize that Innovate ABQ is the hotspot right now that everybody is gravitating around, so we want to build on that momentum as part of a statewide innovation effort.”
The state is backing a new Innovate New Mexico application for a $170,000 grant from the U.S. Commerce Department to begin building collaborative activities. The state committed $10,000 in matching funds if the grant gets approved to help finance an annual “technology showcase” event where new inventions from all the research institutions would be on display for entrepreneurs and investors.
Innovate New Mexico will build on technology transfer programs already underway at the participating institutions. The state’s three labs have been working for years to move government-sponsored innovation to market and they all want to accelerate those efforts.
“We want to get our technologies out to where companies can pick them up and turn them into commercial endeavors,” said Casey DeRaad, director of AFRL’s New Mexico Institute. “Collaborative efforts through Innovate New Mexico will raise the level of activity for everyone involved, making the innovation environment more robust.”
Sandia is aggressively encouraging interaction between lab researchers and the business community. The lab is building a new Center for Collaboration and Commercialization to facilitate direct contact between lab personnel and entrepreneurs, and to provide ongoing support for anyone involved in technology transfer. It’s also working closely with UNM to generate private sector interest in technologies jointly developed by the university and the lab.
“Having all the research institutions working together gets everyone to the table and demonstrates the
commitment New Mexico has for deploying the technologies that we’re creating,” said Jackie Kerby Moore, manager for technology and economic development at Sandia. “Innovate New Mexico will provide a common voice for all of us.”
All three research universities have stepped up their tech-transfer efforts. UNM’s STC is perhaps the most successful to date, with 73 new startup companies formed in the past 10 years to take UNM technologies to market.
But both New Mexico Tech and NMSU are also energetically commercializing inventions. New Mexico Tech formed a new Center for Leadership in Technology Commercialization last year to train its students in technology transfer and pair them with faculty who want to commercialize lab innovations.
And NMSU has intensified its support for entrepreneurship and startup activities through its Arrowhead Center Inc. The center offers hands-on training and assistance for students and others pursuing business ventures. That includes two incubators, one for marketing technology developed at NMSU and the other for students or alumni developing any type of business.
Nearly 90 students and alumni are now participating in the general incubator and 13 startups are under development in the technology incubator, said Terry Lombard, Arrowhead’s director of intellectual property and technology transfer.
“Collaboration through Innovate New Mexico will build on New Mexico’s strengths by showcasing all the great technologies being created around the state,” Lombard said. “It could lead to a lot more innovation and growth in technology transfer. We’re excited.”