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Local invents BugZing repellent

Local invents BugZing repellent

By Steve Hansen Correspondent
May 10, 2017

Because mosquitoes have built-in chemical analysis labs and a local scientist has been working in fuel cell technology, Quay County can now play a role in helping South Pacific islanders combat the Zika virus and other mosquito-borne infections.

Bob Hockaday, a local independent Tucumcari scientist, has invented a device called a BugZing that can be worn like a wristwatch and puts out a scent that mosquitoes find repulsive, but the wearer cannot detect.

While Hockaday’s device is not yet licensed for sale in the U.S., a special permit from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is likely to allow the BugZing to be used to deal with a mosquito-borne health emergency in American Samoa, a seven-island U.S. territory in the South Pacific.

That permit is still pending, Hockaday said, but in the meantime, he is producing devices to ready them for shipment with the help of his son, Bobby Hockaday, and nephew, Ryan Pottenger, and some Tucumcari residents.

American Samoa is in a quandary, according to Rep. Vesi Fautanu, Jr., a member of American Samoa’s legislature. Fautanu contacted Hockaday about BugZing after hearing about it through a cousin of Hockaday’s.

Fautanu said American Samoa’s ability to use chemical sprays to eradicate mosquitoes is limited by a lack of resources and by regulations that prohibit the sprays in the territory’s many environmentally sensitive areas.

Residents observe “cleanup Fridays” to empty sources of standing water and clean out other places where mosquitoes might breed, he said, but American Samoa continues to have a high number of incidents of dangerous mosquito-borne diseases like Zika virus and dengue fever.

The BugZing promises to help ward off these health hazards, he said.

The BugZling works, Hockaday said, despite mosquitoes’ ability to detect carbon-dioxide as humans breathe it out, which is what signals them to hum in for a nourishing poke through the skin.

With Hockaday’s invention, however, the mosquitoes get a whiff of the citronella and Deet or eucalyptus scent on the human’s skin and turn away, Hockaday said.

The mosquitoes’ built-in chemical labs, he said, can detect more than 50 chemicals, and a combination of citronella and Deet or lemon-eucalyptus scent sends them literally looking for new blood.

Hockaday said the devices have been tested on volunteer subjects, some of them family members and many volunteers at New Mexico State University’s Hansen Laboratory, which specializes in studying diseases carried by mosquitoes and their biological relatives.

Dr. Immo Hansen, who heads the laboratory, declares in a video on the BugZing website that BugZing has been found “very effective.”

Hockaday said that combining mosquito-repelling citronella with another repellent chemical has a far greater effect on repelling mosquitos than either chemical alone.

The device requires energy to distribute the stuff mosquitoes hate. The energy comes from a narrow tube made of a flexible plastic that acts as a fuel cell. Hockaday has a patent on the material. Fuel cells use hydrogen and a chemical catalyst to produce electricity that is transferred to electrodes in the tube and then used to power the chemical-spreading mechanism in the BugZing device.

Fuel cells can put out up to 80 times more energy over time than many batteries, Hockaday said, but their use in the U.S. is nearly prohibited on small devices due to the perceived dangers of their hydrogen fuel, which have triggered security concerns in the U.S.

The BugZing is also rechargeable, Hockaday said, unlike other mosquito-repellent products. In the U.S., he said, recharging is accomplished by replacing a cartridge. In developing countries, he said, shopkeepers can inject chemical recharges.

Before the devices can be marketed in the U.S., Hockaday said, they must undergo a rigorous series of tests on humans to satisfy requirements of EPA licensing.

Hockaday is currently working with the Hansen Laboratory to design and conduct those tests, he said.

NM FAST program to host small business workshop in Clovis

NM FAST program to host small business workshop in Clovis

The New Mexico Federal and State Technology Partnership Program, housed at New Mexico State University’s Arrowhead Center, will host a workshop on how small businesses in New Mexico can fund their innovative ideas through the Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer programs.

The workshop will be from 1:30 to 3:00 p.m. Tuesday, April 25, at Clovis Community College, 417 Schepps Boulevard, Room 100. Tickets are free and are available at

The workshop will also be live-streamed for those unable to make it in person. To register for the live webinar, visit

The workshop will explain how the SBIR and STTR programs can help fund innovative ideas in New Mexico. The workshop will cover the basics of the federal government’s seed fund – the SBIR/STTR programs; an overview of the NM FAST program and how it can assist small businesses with proposal submission; critical steps towards preparing a winning proposal; and a question and answer session.

The NM FAST Partnership Program provides small businesses with:

  • Assistance in identifying appropriate solicitations and topic areas;
  • How-to information on agency registrations and electronic proposal submission;
  • Guidance on proposal preparation, including assessments of technical objectives and hypotheses and drafting supporting documents such as biographical sketches, resources and budgets;
  • Specifics on the target agency’s requirements for commercialization content in Phase I/Phase II proposals; and
  • Technical reviews and edits of proposals with feedback.

In addition, NM FAST will provide select clients up to two micro-grants of $650 to cover the expenses of professional services such as commercialization plan assistance, development partner identification assistance, research partner identification assistance, counsel on patents and technology licensing, and indirect cost rate advisement for proposal development.

For more information, contact Dana Catron, program coordinator for the NM FAST program, at 505-358-4039 or

Micro ranches and these other agriculture startups are nothing to chirp at

Micro ranches and these other agriculture startups are nothing to chirp at

New Mexico’s first agriculture technology accelerator has selected its cohort of startups — and they’re nothing to chirp at.

The Las Cruces-based Arrowhead Center first announced its agtech program, called AgSprint, in February. Of the nearly 50 applications received from around the country and the world, six were selected, five from the Land of Enchantment. The sixth — Rocky Mountain Micro Ranch — hails from Denver and offers an alternative source of protein.

The micro ranch raises and sells “microlivestock” in the form of crickets, waxworms and mealworms. But you won’t find the last two referred as such on any menu. Instead, the startup has created more marketable names for them: galleria and molitos.

Wendy Lu McGill, founder and CEO of Rocky Mountain Micro Ranch, said the company’s product has been received well in Denver. Since launching in 2015, the two-person team has gained five Denver-area restaurants as customers. Among them is Linger, a high-end establishment that has made headlines for serving the startup’s insects. She hopes to possibly set up shop in New Mexico, creating jobs in the process.

“Crickets are relatively easy to raise,” McGill said. “They’re also arguably the most popular edible insect in North America right now.”

She told Albuquerque Business First the micro ranch has held up to 250,000 crickets at one time. They have seen up to $5,000 in revenues so far, but McGill expects that to increase after the ranch graduates from AgSprint in about four months.

“We’re are learning so much through the customer discovery process and really questioning our basic business theory,” she said.

Raising and harvesting crickets is substantially more sustainable than traditional livestock, McGill said. For example, it takes 22,000 liters of water to produce 10,000 grams of feed to get one kilogram of beef. Alternatively, less than one liter of water for 1,700 grams of feed is needed for one kilogram of cricket protein production, according to the micro ranch’s website.

Bonus fact: RMMR’s microlivestock are usually fed leftover grains from Denver microbreweries and distilleries.

The other AgSprint startups are:

  • Wildlife Protection Management — offers a platform to manage and protect wildlife using non-invasive humane means, making it easier, more comprehensive and affordable to set goals for species populations and habitat health.
  • Ag Coalition — offers a digital marketplace where all parties, from suppliers to producers to retailers, may review, evaluate, purchase, and otherwise conduct business in the agricultural supply chain.
  • Revolution Agriculture — creates closed-system, organic farms that produce eight times the yield per square foot, run 100 percent on renewable energy, use 90 percent less water and empower communities to solve food insecurity locally and in any environment.
  • Gonzo Farms — created the Eddy 2.0 Vortex Brewer, which increases beneficial microbes and fungi for optimum reproduction in soil.
  • Enchanted Seeds and Sustainable Management — offers a management decision platform and certification program that helps agricultural producers properly identify potential products to reach sustainability while considering economics and future agricultural production.

Zetdi Sloan, director of Arrowhead’s Technology Incubator, previously told Business First there has been a greater global need for agtech recently. AgSprint was created to meet that demand, making it the 12th similar program in the country.

New Mexico generates $6 billion in revenue through agriculture alone, according to NMSU’s College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences. When food processing is included, that raises the number to about $11 billion.

Team expertise, scalability and potential economic impact were among the top factors judges took into consideration, Sloan said.

“A portion of the review process [for participants] was trying to understand how our resources and assets in this state and within our regional partners’ network would benefit the applicants and their teams,” Sloan said.

The six startups will be awarded $2,000 each if they complete the first five weeks of the AgSprint curriculum, receive business mentoring and space in which to test their products.

At the end of the program in August, the companies could also become eligible to join the National Science Foundation’s Innovation Corps Program — called I-Corps — and possibly receive up to $50,000 in funding.

Sloan said the Arrowhead Center will open applications for a health technology program once AgSprint wraps up. The dates for that have not been finalized.

Creating such an accelerator would follow a rising trend in New Mexico, showing a budding spotlight on the state’s health and bioscience industries. Last month, ABQid announced it was going to become a health and wellness accelerator for the next three years. Last week, Gov. Susana Martinez signed into law a bill that sets into motion the establishment of an official bioscience authority in New Mexico.

NMSU’s Arrowhead Center launches AgSprint program to support innovation in agriculture

NMSU’s Arrowhead Center launches AgSprint program to support innovation in agriculture

A new program by New Mexico State University’s Arrowhead Center is offering help to those looking to develop innovative ideas related to agricultural technology.

The Arrowhead Technology Incubator is launching AgSprint, a five-month venture builder program designed to support innovation in agriculture, early this spring. AgSprint acts as a facilitator, connecting agricultural entrepreneurs to financing, demonstration and validation partners, academic faculty, corporate partners and more.

“The ideal candidate would be someone who is very driven, seeking capital, industry connections and/or development partners, and is who is very passionate about contributing to efficiency and productivity in agriculture,” said Zetdi Sloan, director of Arrowhead Technology Incubator. “Ag tech applicants run the gamut from basic business operations – reducing paperwork, improving productivity and enabling e-commerce – to specialties such as drone and robotic technology for overseeing fields, moisture levels, pesticide and fertilizer usage and equipment, as well as for developing new seed varieties and predicting crop yields and commodity prices.”

Sloan said that the initial three weeks of the program will follow the ICORPS model that tests the feasibility of the venture. Graduates will receive $2,000 and the necessary National Science Foundation lineage to apply for the $50,000 national ICORPS program. Additionally, applicants will be able to receive up to three micro-grants, valued at $650, to cover the expenses of professional services such as technical writing, website development, counsel on patents and technology licensing, and regulatory consulting. Those who show promise will also be invited to continue the program for the next four months. Participants are able to access the program remotely.

AgSprint is of particular importance to NMSU as the university board of regents oversees both the New Mexico Department of Agriculture and the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences.

Rolando Flores, dean of ACES, is supportive of AgSprint.

“One of the college’s priorities is in the area of value added,” Flores said. “AgSprint is a great avenue for our faculty to contribute their knowledge and expertise to advance agribusiness initiatives that can positively impact the economy of our state.”

AgSprint-supported ventures will receive customized support tailored to each entrepreneur’s unique path to business development and financial success. Along with the Arrowhead Investment Fund, AgSprint can tap into private, state and federal funding, curate a list of opportunities and assist with proposal/pitch development to make time-to-market more efficient.

Founded by civic leaders, AgSprint’s mission is equal parts public and private and designed to bridge the gap between what people need and what governments can provide. AgSprint will focus on developing ideas in areas such as animal health and nutrition; bioenergy; drones and robotics; food technology, safety and traceability; and soil and crop technology, among other themes.

By bringing together researchers, regulatory consultants, public/private funders, ag business experts and technical resources, AgSprint offers a wealth of knowledge under one roof.

Funding for AgSprint is provided by the U.S. Economic Development Administration University Center program and New Mexico Gas Co.

The deadline to apply is March 10. The program will begin in early April. For more information, visit

Arrowhead crunches numbers for New Mexico businesses

Arrowhead crunches numbers for New Mexico businesses

LAS CRUCES – Sure, mixing cow manure, food scrap and agricultural field waste together sounds like a great idea. But is there any money in it?

As it turns out, yes.

But Bob Hockaday would not have known for sure his idea to churn the messy mix and harvest the result for fuel and fertilizer would work without the assistance of New Mexico State University’s Arrowhead Center. Among the programs Arrowhead offers entrepreneurial ideas to bring to market is one supported in part by the U.S. Economic Development Administration University Center for Regional Commercialization. The free program requires four to six hours of collaboration with the research team, then turnds them loose to do the work. Participants in other areas of the state don’t even have to leave their office. All communication can be handled over the phone and through an online portal.

People with ideas for a potential business can get help in determining the viability of their plan, said Zedti Sloan, director of the Arrowhead Technology Incubator. Startups, businesses that want to expand and governmental organizations from throughout New Mexico can apply to receive help with researching their venture, preparing environmental impact statements, addressing financial planning and entrepreneurial training. Two areas, market intelligence and financial intelligence services, are offered to help the entrepreneur make a faster decision based on hard data.

“We recognize there is a need for very targeted assistance for specific goals entrepreneurs are pursuing,” Sloan said. The information from Arrowhead provides “a better understanding of customers and capital-raising activities.”

Participants can request specific financial intelligence services, like estimating startup costs, preparing financial forecasts, estimating the company’s value and developing pitch presentations. Market intelligence services include determining where a company should devote more resources, which markets are profitable, shopping patterns and what demographic segments the company could hope to attract.

In essence, the program is answering questions as to whether an idea that seems brilliant to the entrepreneur will have any value and make a successful business in the real world. The information gathered by Arrowhead on the business’ behalf can also be helpful, even necessary, in applying for funding.

“We asked ‘If we make this fuel, who will buy it and what price will they buy it at? Is the business plan technically feasible? Can we put this all together and come up with a workable plan?'”

After going through the process, Hockaday was able to apply for a secured loan through the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Most recently, he landed $86,000 in Local Economic Development Act dollars from the state and the city of Tucumcari. The money funded the purchase of a defunct ethanol plant, which he plans to outfit to refine biofuels from the messy mix mentioned above.

Hockaday, who holds several patents, says he is “in the inventing business” and has created many devices related to energy generation and consumption. He is the president of Energy Related Devices, Inc., which he founded in 1994. With his business partner, Tucumcari farmer Robert Lopez, he hopes to reinvigorate the abandoned fuel plant to address not only the need for biofuels that don’t take corn and grain out of the food chain, but also to tackle the problem of animal waste from feedlots and dairy farms that dot eastern New Mexico and the Rio Grande Valley.

The ethanol plant came equipped with six 45,000-gallon mixing tanks that could produce three million gallons of ethanol a year. And, Hockaday found, that mix of manure, food waste and field waste – such as corn stalks or other material that would normally be left to be turned into the soil – was a perfect mix to produce biofuels. The resultant waste, the remains of corn stalks, manure and food, comes out as a perfect fertilizer, he said.

“We’re taking the garbage, breaking it down and harvesting” biofuels, Hockaday said. “We are replacing the grain feed (currently) used to make ethanol.”

He said there is great potential to replicate the biofuel production plant at closed ehtanol plants that dot the Midwest. He hopes to grow the business by adding a greenhouse for aquaponics and aquaculture.

“We have water, fertilizer and a source of heat,” he said. “We want to encourage a greenhouse grower.”

But realizing his goal would not have gotten as far as quickly without the work of the Arrowhead Center, he said.

“This is a complex plan and I said ‘I need help.’ If you can make money at it, it can reproduce. If it’s not viable, it’s not going to keep going.”

To apply to Arrowhead Technology Incubator or for information, visit

Jason Gibbs may be reached at (575) 541-5451 or Follow him on Twitter @fjgwriter.

NMSU’s Arrowhead Center seeks applications to assist growth-oriented entrepreneurs

NMSU’s Arrowhead Center seeks applications to assist growth-oriented entrepreneurs

Arrowhead Center at New Mexico State University is now accepting applications for its U.S. Economic Development Administration University Center for Regional Commercialization, which provides a mix of business assistance services designed to help foster economic development within New Mexico’s commercialization ecosystem.

Venture research, impact studies and entrepreneurial training are available through University Center to startups, expanding businesses and governmental organizations in New Mexico. Zetdi Sloan, director of University Center, said the center offers targeted, market intelligence and financial intelligence services to aid entrepreneurs in making faster and more well-informed decisions.

“Starting or expanding a business is all about making informed strategies and taking calculated steps toward generating revenue and obtaining funding,” Sloan said. “To do this, you need to be informed about the facts and figures of the market and feel the pulse of your customers. However, without reliable data, you won’t be able to accomplish any of these goals.”

University Center addresses strategic development and growth challenges such as penetrating new markets, securing funding and refining business models.

For more information, and to apply, visit

NM-made mosquito repellent edges toward sales

NM-made mosquito repellent edges toward sales

By Kevin Robinson-Avila / Journal Staff Writer
Published: Monday, August 15th, 2016 at 12:02am
Updated: Monday, August 15th, 2016 at 10:40am

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Tucumcari-based inventor Robert Hockaday has created a new, wearable mosquito-repelling device that could take the bite out of today’s growing Zika virus.

Hockaday, a physicist, mechanical engineer and all-round inventor, created his new BugBling to help combat mosquito-borne diseases by never getting bit in the first place. The patented device, which uses a combination of chemical and botanical repellents, can be worn as a wrist or ankle band, or can be clipped onto clothes, providing up to 800 hours of continuous protection against mosquitoes.

New Mexico State University’s Molecular Vector Physiology Lab conducted two sets of tests on the device in 2014 and 2015. NMSU found the BugBling performed much better than some of the best-selling wearable mosquito repellents currently on the market, including today’s top-selling products Invisiband and OFF ClipOn.

“The tests showed the BugBling is up to three times more effective than those two products,” Hockaday said. “The tests measured the reduction of attractiveness to mosquitoes and found the BugBling reduced that to about 10 percent. The others performed at between 30 percent and 50 percent.”

Hockaday applied in May for Environmental Protection Agency approval to sell the device in the U.S., a process that could take about nine months. In the meantime, he’s working with businesses in other countries to begin selling in markets with fewer regulatory hurdles, such as South Korea and especially Brazil, where the Zika virus is particularly widespread.

The EPA’s regulatory review is largely a procedural requirement to begin sales because the BugBling uses repellents that are already sold on the market today.

It’s the particular mix of chemical and botanical repellents – plus the way those ingredients are packaged for steady emission through a wearable membrane, or filter – that constitute Hockaday’s secret sauce.

The BugBling uses a combination of DEET – the most common mosquito repellent in the U.S. since World War II – and Lemon Eucalyptus plant oil. The two together provide a lot more repellent bang for the buck than if used individually, Hockaday said.

The real innovation, however, is the membrane where the repellents are contained, which steadily releases scents from the mixture to surround the user with an armor of odor against mosquitoes. Like all mosquito repellents, the odor interferes with a mosquito’s keen sense of smell.

“The membrane provides a precise delivery rate of the chemical, or scent, which confuses mosquitoes and they stop hunting,” Hockaday said.

Unlike repellent sprays or creams, there is no contact with the skin, allowing consumers to avoid the discomfort or concern about rubbing sticky chemicals on their body. In addition, with topical repellents, the effect can wear off fairly rapidly, whereas the BugBling provides continuous protection for more than a month, Hockaday said.

NMSU tested the BugBling for Hockaday through the New Mexico Small Business Assistance program, a state-funded initiative that provides technical support for local businesses at NMSU, the University of New Mexico and the state’s two national labs. The Hansen Vector Physiology Lab used a wind tunnel to standardize airflow, with caged mosquitoes located near a person wearing repellent. The lab then measured and compared mosquito reactions using Hockaday’s product and commercially available repellents.

“The BugBling band strongly repels mosquitoes and proved to be superior compared to the other devices we tested,” said Immo Hansen, the biology professor who conducted the tests, in a prepared statement. “In fact, it was the only device that had a significant effect in our tests.”

The tests used Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, one of two known Zika carriers. But, apart from Zika, the repellent is intended as general protection against mosquitoes to help lower the incidence of diseases caused by bites, such as malaria, or dengue or yellow fever.

Hockaday is distributing free BugBling prototypes at events for feedback from users while he pursues EPA approval for commercial sales. The device is now available in wearable bands and clips-ons. As it begins to enter the market, Hockaday will create more products, such as repellent ornaments, floor mats, and wearables for pets and livestock.

Some members of the U.S. Olympic golf team are now using the BugBling in Brazil.

NMSU’s Arrowhead Center Inc., which assists startup businesses in commercializing new technologies, is providing technical support to help develop Hockaday’s business strategy, and connect with potential investors and partners.

“We’re always open to new ideas to solve issues in more effective ways,” said Arrowhead program manager Griselda Martínez Cereceres. “Robert has an innovative product that testing has shown to be superior than others on the market. We want to help him as he pushes forward.”

Hockaday is a former Los Alamos National Laboratory employee who formed his own company in 1996, Energy Related Devices. He’s been working on developing new, miniature fuel cells and solar cells since then.

But, in 2007, a customer hired him as a consultant to create tools to lure and trap mosquitoes, which got his innovative wheels turning in the opposite direction – to create a new, more effective repellent. He’s now spinning out BugBling into a new company, Zing Devices Inc.

He recently acquired an old ethanol factory in Tucumcari, where he’ll mix BugBling repellents and assemble the wearable devices.

Hockaday presented his product at Technology Venture Corp.’s Deal Stream Summit last year. He’s now seeking funds for the march to market.

NMSU Arrowhead Center to host Department of Defense funding opportunity event in Albuquerque

NMSU Arrowhead Center to host Department of Defense funding opportunity event in Albuquerque

The New Mexico Federal and State Technology Partnership Program, housed at New Mexico State University’s Arrowhead Center, will host a Small Business Innovation Research Department of Defense Navy topics event next month in Albuquerque.

The event will take place from 7:30 a.m. to noon Dec. 6 at STC.UNM, 801 University Blvd. SE in Albuquerque. This event is free, and tickets are available at Refreshments will be provided.

The event will be divided into two segments. The first will be a live webinar streaming which will feature the Navy SBIR Program Offices discussing their recently released SBIR/STTR topics; representatives from both the Naval Sea Systems Command and the Naval Air Systems Command will participate. NAVSEA SBIR program manager Jason Schroepfer will be available in person to answer questions post-webinar and will also be holding private one-on-one sessions.

NM FAST program manager Zetdi Sloan sees the event as an opportunity for local tech firms.

“Pre-proposal communications can have a powerful impact on the applicant’s thinking, from reshaping the research design to rethinking where the proposal should be submitted, or if it should be written at all,” Sloan said. “Potential applicants do not want to miss this opportunity to get it right at the beginning.”

The event presents an opportunity for small technology firms to learn how their innovative ideas or capabilities – either technology or services – can be delivered to the DoD. The Navy invests $350 million of non-dilutive funds every year in innovative ideas.

“This is going to be an exciting opportunity for New Mexico based small business leaders to learn about the US Navy’s mission areas and specific innovative technology development opportunities,” said Todd Bisio, NM FAST’s network coordinator. “In addition, it is a great opportunity for the businesses to build relationships and expose the customer to the capabilities that they have to offer. The DoD has the largest budget across the eleven federal agencies that currently participate in the SBIR/STTR program and the Navy is a big part of that. Having the Navy as a customer can be extremely beneficial to any small business and this is a great point of entry.”

The NM FAST program, which is supported by a grant from the U.S. Small Business Administration, works to improve the participation of small businesses in federal SBIR and Small Business Technology Transfer programs for innovative, technology-driven small businesses. NM FAST has been gaining traction in New Mexico by offering statewide workshops, mentoring, and micro-grant awards for eligible small businesses.
NM FAST provides small businesses with:

– Assistance in identifying appropriate solicitations and topic areas;
– How-to information on agency registrations and electronic proposal submission;
– Guidance on proposal preparation, including assessments of technical objectives and hypotheses and drafting supporting documents such as biographical sketches, resources and budgets;
– Specifics on the target agency’s requirements for commercialization content in Phase I/Phase II proposals; and
– Technical reviews and edits of proposals with feedback.

In addition, NM FAST provides select first-time awardees microgrants of $650 to cover the expenses of professional services such as commercialization plan assistance, development partner identification assistance, research partner identification assistance, counsel on patents and technology licensing, and indirect cost rate advisement, for proposal development.

For more information, contact Dana Catron, program coordinator for the NM FAST program, at 505-358-4039 or

Understanding the University’s Role in Startup Ecosystems

Understanding the University’s Role in Startup Ecosystems

November 14, 2016

Successful startups are not created in a vacuum. They are connected to networks comprised of faculty, mentors and other innovators. Higher education institutions can play a crucial role in an entrepreneurial ecosystem, and even a more important role within developing economies. We spoke with Dr. Griselda T. Martínez, program director of Spanish Entrepreneurial Training Programs at New Mexico State University’s Arrowhead Center about the impact educational institutions can have on empowering and growing a network within emerging economies.

How do early-stage startups benefit from universities as an active partner in the regional entrepreneurial ecosystem?

Startups benefit from university involvement in ecosystems in a number of ways. Universities are hubs of human capital, knowledge, and expertise. They are able to connect entrepreneurs, who are also often innovators, with subject matter experts in areas outside the entrepreneurs’ areas of expertise such as accounting, law, engineering, or business, to name a few. Quite often, university experts serve as consultants, helping entrepreneurs in the process of a startup creation and growth. These relationships are invaluable given the value embedded in the learning process that can be replicated by the entrepreneurs in any other situation.

Universities can also play a critical role in a startup’s vetting process. With a concentration of knowledge in the crucial aspects of launching and growing a business that includes technical as well as business knowledge, universities are able to offer validation checkpoints throughout a startup’s journey. A positive side effect to the vetting process: entrepreneurs behind the startups become more business savvy, more confident, aware of the critical aspects and ready to speak the required and specific language relevant to the different stakeholders. Stakeholders may include potential partners and investors.

Universities and other academic institutions can also offer a venue where ideas can turn into proven concepts by using the technical capabilities such as specialized equipment and the technical expertise not available in the industry, and available at a prohibitive cost. Capstone courses working as proof-of-concept labs are an opportunity for both startups and faculty members to capture the knowledge, creativity, and ideas from students and turn them into the creation of working prototypes of a product or service at the completion of the academic course. The ability that startups have to be flexible and receptive to suggestions from students represent to entrepreneurs the ability to continue their creative process with concrete outcomes beneficial to the venture creation.

Lastly, students who are aspiring entrepreneurs can tap into the university’s intellectual property (IP) portfolio for licensing opportunities. This potentially can turn research projects turned into IP into real products taken to the markets by entrepreneurs through the creation of startups.

 How do universities benefit from that partnership?

As a key component to a vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem, entrepreneurs and academic institutions are key elements to this equation in the greater context. Entrepreneurs building startups bring energy and enthusiasm to the university and an incentive to promote applied research. In emerging economies, research may not exist within the culture. The possibility of partnerships through capstone-like classes and other research projects allow entrepreneurs to provide a reality check on the kinds of resources and programs universities should provide versus what they think they need to provide. This is crucial in keeping the institution’s programs relevant for current and future students with respect to industry and innovation as an element to the academic training experience for students. Working with real projects that will become products transform into applied research projects led by researchers and involving students. Additionally, the learning process of students providing viable solutions in a real environment bridges the gap between theoretical and applied knowledge.

By startups joining the university’s network, entrepreneurs become a valuable resource for faculty members and students when they engage with current students. University affiliated startups become potential mentors, coaches, investors, by providing internship opportunities for students, new hires for their own company, and/or donors. Prospective students may also have the option to consider specific universities based on the institution’s reputation to non-academic aspects such entrepreneurial culture, startup creation, funding, competitions, and other opportunities linked to startups and entrepreneurship. This is key to any university and/or any community working on building an entrepreneurial culture and ecosystem targeting the student population.

The ability to transfer out technologies developed at academic institutions is another benefit to to partnering with startups. Academic institutions produce intellectual property (IP) through research and is protected through patents, trademarks, or copyrights. Entrepreneurs linked to startups may be the actors transforming IP into real products and taking them to local and global markets. The more successful a university is at transferring technologies out of the laboratory into products, often known as commercialization of technologies, the higher the rates of return on investment. The funds result of technology transfer may become available to fund other projects, expand in the number of research projects, and ideally create an array of programs that continue to incentivize the technology transfer process to a larger number of licensees.

Partnering with key actors within the ecosystem is critical when federal funding is available for innovative programs that aim to incentivize technology transfer and commercialization of technologies. An example of this in an emerging economy is the pilot program implemented in Mexico in an effort to replicate the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) I-Corps program, which was possible by a partnership between NSF, Mexico’s CONACYT, and academic institutions. This program aims to commercialize technologies by market validation through active teams formed by researchers, students within an academic institution, and business mentors.

What are some ways ecosystems can initiate and nurture university partnerships?

It is important to start with identifying a common mission or vision for this partnership. Finding an institution that shares the same goals, paired with the capabilities and capacities needed by the startup is also a plus. If the startups are proactively outreaching to the universities, bringing awareness of the benefits to both is key to setting a vision and mission in common in which both parts will contribute in their very own way.

To encourage universities to become an active ecosystem partner, it is important to highlight relevant and positive outcomes of non-traditional partnerships in creative programs, either within their institution or at sister institutions. Examples of this may include technology showcases of joint research that reached the market or sharing past success stories attached to partnerships such as the one being explored. It’s common for some level of entrepreneurial efforts or interest to exist within the institution. It is key that entrepreneurs are aware of them and actively engage in those efforts. Given the interest of universities in the students’ experience, entrepreneurs from startups can actively engage with aspiring entrepreneurs as role models and mentors.

International partners for emerging economies may represent potential funding sources and partners for further capacity building. Examples of such programs include the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Inter-American Development Bank, the World Bank, global non-for-profit organizations, and specific partnerships like the Mexico-United States Entrepreneurship and Innovation Council. Local champions connecting the dots through their knowledge of these types of opportunities within and outside the region may represent a game-changing strategy.

Entrepreneurs and other champions in the community should also make the institution aware of any potential challenges – and recommend ways to overcome those obstacles. It is important to maintain effective communication throughout the process, showcasing the flexibility and willingness to adapt in response to unforeseen hurdles from the startup’s’ perspective.

What are common obstacles for these partnerships to develop and grow? How can either party overcome the hurdles?

Some universities are burdened with bureaucracy, which can make it difficult to start new programs. Building trustworthy relationships and recognizing the opportunities are mutually beneficial first steps. Finding faculty and/or researchers within departments that are open and flexible to work with startups on small initiatives that can be championed is key to larger initiatives to follow.

Academic institutions are required to show results and benefits as part of their education, research, and in some cases, economic development. To develop frameworks for new programs, it is crucial to track, document, and communicate the impact of the ongoing and past joint projects between universities and startups.

The creation of memorandums of understanding between universities and startups to collaborate may allow circumventing some of the bureaucracy tied to large academic institutions. Startups may provide small donations to fund equipment or other capabilities within the university. In exchange, students can be engaged in supporting and furthering startups’ research and technical challenges with the faculty members acting as liaisons between startups and student teams.  Some academic institutions allow for faculty members to create new classes and content of the new classes as long as they are relevant to the study plan.

Disengagement from faculty and staff may result from lack of understanding of the mutual benefits from working with startups. In this situation, startups need to take the initiative and communicate the benefits of a partnership. Startups and their technical challenges and (often limited resources) are a great opportunity for educational partnerships. Lastly, alumni joining startup teams may become a research liaison, building bridges between the academic institutions and the startup networks.

About Dr. Griselda T. Martínez 



Griselda T. Martínez leads efforts towards providing both business and technical assistance to a wide variety of businesses in the region, the state of New Mexico and Mexico, including Hispanic and Spanish-speaking ventures. She oversees NMSU’s role in the New Mexico Small Business (NSMBA) Program, in partnership with Los Alamos and Sandia National Laboratories. She is also in charge of the implementation of programs targeting entrepreneurial education and ecosystem enhancement for Spanish-speaking national and international communities. She holds a doctorate degree in Economic Development from NMSU, with an area of specialization in Regional Economic Development.



Title: Design Thinking Introduction
Speaker: Estela Hernandez Hartley
Location: Deming

Title: Business Model Innovation
Speaker: Estela Hernandez Hartley
Location: Silver City