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STC and UNM Innovation Academy Awarded NSF I-Corps Site Grant

Albuquerque, NM, August 8, 2017. STC.UNM (STC), UNM’s technology transfer and economic development arm, and the Innovation Academy (iA), UNM’s innovative program for entrepreneurial students, announced that they have been awarded a National Science Foundation (NSF) I-Corps Sites grant for $443,631. The five-year grant will fund new programs and expand existing ones developed by the two organizations.

The NSF awarded the grant under its Innovation Corps – National Innovation Networks Sites Program, created to build a sustainable ecosystem that successfully commercializes innovations from NSF-funded research through new company formation and entrepreneurial training for scientists and engineers. In 2011, the NSF launched a very successful pilot program and developed a curriculum based on the lean start-up theory that is the origin of the I-Corp program.

Co-PIs on the grant, iA Executive Director Rob DelCampo and STC CEO Lisa Kuuttila are thrilled to have received the award for their proposal, entitled “University of New Mexico Lobo Rainforest I-Corps Site.”

“UNM is poised to greatly expand entrepreneurial training through this award,” said Dr. DelCampo. “It’s going to encourage even greater collaboration between academia and industry and provide highly effective training for students and faculty to really understand innovation and entrepreneurship.”

Added Lisa Kuuttila, “We are a first-time (type I) awardee of an I-Corps grant. The grant could not have come at a better time for STC and the iA as we co-locate at the Lobo Rainforest Building at Innovate ABQ. We will be able to provide seed funding and resources for more university inventors to move their technologies toward new company formation, licensing, strategic partnerships, and bigger private and public funding.”

The grant partners will form a management team to oversee the project’s day-to-day operations, fiscal management, and team development.

The core of the STC-iA Rainforest I-Corps program will focus on recruiting individual commercialization teams comprised of a PI (faculty, postdoc, or student), an entrepreneur, and a mentor, who will be seed funded and supported to develop an idea, project, or research in a STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) area supported by the NSF. Student and postdoc PIs will work with a designated academic lead. The program will focus also on recruiting a mix of faculty, undergraduate and graduate students, postdocs, and women in STEM and other underrepresented minorities for the program.

Request for proposals will be issued twice each year for selection of 10 teams from each cohort for a total of 20 team proposals in the first year. The number of teams chosen will increase incrementally each year over the five-year program period. A committee of UNM, STC, and business community members will evaluate the proposals for the winning applications.

The grant will also allow STC and iA to expand their existing educational programs and implement Lean LaunchPad training as the overall entrepreneurial training curriculum for the I-Corps Site program, as well as the Online Kauffman Founders School and I-Corps Site training programs.

See also Kevin Robinson-Avila’s August 8, 2017 article, “Grant will help UNM foster business startups,” from the Albuquerque Journal, reprinted below.

Grant will help UNM foster business startups

By Kevin Robinson-Avila / Journal Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 8th, 2017 at 3:15pm

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — 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.”