By Amanda Bradford
$2 million grant helps researchers commercialize inventions
New Mexico State University’s role as a leader in technology commercialization and business development in the region was affirmed in 2013 by the award of $1 million from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration – with NMSU and its partners matching the funds.
The $2 million boost was the result of the i6 Challenge, a national competition to spur innovation, accelerate commercialization of ideas to market, and create companies and jobs through support of proof of concept centers. In addition to expanding Arrowhead Center’s proof of concept program – Launch, the grant funded the creation and continued development of the Arrowhead Innovation Network, a support network for Launch that will provide technical assistance from experienced business people, connections, better access to investment funds and other services.
The many NMSU faculty members selected to participate in technology commercialization through the Launch proof of concept program receive mentoring, market analyses, demonstration-validation services, and access to investment. This support allows campus inventors to work on technology development while exploring commercial markets for the products of their research.
“Launch continues to be successful in driving a new, outcome-driven research focus,” Director Jason Koenig said. “The grant is a boost to a program that already has a track record of support for promising research projects with commercial potential.”
The Launch program is now on the third round of its annual competition, with projects to be selected in the spring. Winners are awarded up to $25,000 in cash investment, in addition to the services that all Launch participants receive. Past competition winners include Jessica Houston and Mark Naivar, in the field of commercial flow cytometers; Zohrab Samani, who developed an app for properly scheduling irrigations for pecan fields that may improve crop yields and decrease water usage; and Phillip De Leon, Don McCoy and Steven Spence, focusing on Internet security software using voice authentication.
The 2012 awardees were Jeffrey Arterburn, Charles Shuster and Kevin Houston, who focus on a new class of fluorescent organic dyes and associated compounds referred to as “HPY-Dyes,” with applications in biological, biomedical and biotechnology fields as indicators of cell viability and function; and Geoffrey Smith and Shuguang Deng, who developed a bacteria culture that produces large quantities of hydrogen gas and includes the ability to capture that gas in a biopolymer. The technology can produce hydrogen gas and a hydrogen-storing biopolymer from organic waste.
Arrowhead Innovation Network is an ever-growing group of top business minds in the region, who help these aspiring entrepreneurs establish and develop an innovation pipeline that can accelerate their success in launching commercial ventures. The network is already working to boost the regional innovation ecosystem by fostering partnerships that fuel the creation and development of job creating startups. A recently formed advisory council for Arrowhead Innovation Network will guide the program’s expansion and facilitate even more connections between industry leaders, investors and entrepreneurs.
The council will also help boost the awareness throughout the region of the resources that southern New Mexico has to offer, she said. Kathy Hansen, Arrowhead Center’s director and chief executive officer, said she wants to use that increased awareness to help get top researchers and inventors into the commercialization pipeline sooner, improving their potential for success.
“One of our goals is to get our researchers thinking about commercial applications for their technology right from the outset,” Hansen said. “The Launch program and Arrowhead Innovation Network are resources we can use to help bring products and markets into the conversation even earlier.”