Wells, who replaced longtime leader Dan Lopez as president in July, told the Albuquerque Economic Forum on Wednesday that market-based thinking can enhance students’ employment prospects after graduation and generate more university income through commercialization of new technologies.
“We have an opportunity to build a sense of entrepreneurship across campus so that students understand risk-taking and what it takes to be a business person,” Wells said. “That will make the engineering and science degrees they earn more marketable. And with state funding declining, it can be a lever for new sources of money.”
Tech has already had some marked success in technology transfer. Today’s globally recognized “nicotine patch” was invented there, earning tens of millions of dollars for the college. More recently, Tech spin-off firm RiskSense has gained major traction nationally for its novel products and services in the cybersecurity industry.
To accelerate such efforts, the university launched a Center for Leadership in Technology Commercialization in 2014 that provides entrepreneurial training for students through classes, boot camps and hands-on experience. Students work in teams to take university innovations to market.
“We want to tap more opportunities like the nicotine patch,” Wells said. “We have so many opportunities, but we need to be sharper, more effective and more efficient on campus to bring them to fruition.”
New Mexico Tech is the smallest of the state’s three research universities, with about 2,200 students and about 1,100 faculty and staff. But it’s recognized as a premier university in terms of value. It’s ranked No. 1 nationwide in value for students studying engineering and physics, and No. 22 for computer science, Wells said.
A broad range of research activities helps prepare students for careers, while leading to new, innovative discoveries that address social issues. That includes everything from astronomy and atmospheric research to investigative work in geology, mining, petroleum production and explosive materials.
That research has generated new sources of income. To date, for example, the university’s Energetic Materials Research and Testing Center has managed about $500 million in research and work, such as training first responders and developing technologies and protocols to improve security for buildings and vehicles.
That, in turn, has led to a lot of new, potentially marketable discoveries.
“We have a lot of applied research through our basic research,” Wells said. “That has created great opportunities for innovation, intellectual property and ultimately commercialization.”