Grant will help UNM foster business startups

By Kevin Robinson-Avila / Journal Staff Writer/Albuquerque Journal

A lot more local startups marketing University of New Mexico technology could emerge in the next few years thanks to a new $444,000 grant from the National Science Foundation.

The five-year grant will convert UNM’s new Lobo Rainforest building at the Innovate ABQ research and development site Downtown into an official “NSF Innovation Corps site.” That NSF program pumps money into select innovation centers around the country to boost efforts to bring new university-developed products and services to market.

The grant will allow the Science and Technology Corp., UNM’s tech-transfer office, and the university’s Innovation Academy to offer funding to nearly 120 teams of students, faculty and business mentors over the next five years to bring new innovations to market. The program will begin this fall with $34,000 for 10 different teams, or $3,400 each, said STC President and CEO Lisa Kuuttila.

“We’ll have two cohorts of ten teams each this first year, starting with one in the fall and another in the spring,” Kuuttila said. “That will grow to 25 teams annually by the third year of the grant.”

Each team will receive business mentoring and training as they conduct intense market research and development for new products and services over a three-month period. Those that show market viability for new innovations while demonstrating the business acumen needed to move forward will become eligible to apply for NSF grants of up to $50,000 to continue their work, Kuuttila said.

Innovation Academy Executive Director Rob DelCampo called it “excitement funding.”

“It will help us draw a lot more students and faculty into technology transfer,” he said.

The program will focus on recruiting students through the Innovation Academy, which UNM launched in 2015 to offer real-world entrepreneurial experience and training. It will also seek to increase women and minority participation, DelCampo said.

This month, both STC and the Innovation Academy will move into the Lobo Rainforest building Downtown, a new six-story facility that just opened at the seven-acre Innovate ABQ site at Broadway and Central.

“It’s perfect timing,” Kuuttila said. “We’re trying to grow the ecosystem through broad collaboration at Innovate ABQ. Turning the Lobo Rainforest building into an NSF I-Corps site will help a lot.”

New Mexico State University’s Arrowhead Center is also an I-Corps site. It won a $300,000 NSF grant last year.

“We’ve funded 32 entrepreneurial teams so far,” said Aggie I-Corp Site Director Kramer Winingham. “It’s a tremendous program that provides resources for early-stage technology businesses. It’s awesome that UNM will now be able to leverage that program.”

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