In the past year, New Mexico State University has introduced new technologies and products in areas as wide-ranging as dyes that will help identify and treat cancer, organic pesticides, voice authentication security software, and shrimp that can be grown in the desert.
The common thread between these innovative ideas is the need for funding to get them off the ground and into the market. To help address this gap, NMSU and Arrowhead Center have created the Aggie Innovation Fund, with an anchor investment of up to $500,000 committed by the NMSU Foundation.
“This is a game-changer for NMSU and the inventors and researchers who work here,” said Kathy Hansen, Arrowhead Center’s director and CEO. “It’s critical investment in the future of innovation and entrepreneurship.”
She said the fund will provide the early-stage capital that is crucial to getting great ideas off campus and into the hands of people who will benefit from them.
The Aggie Innovation Fund has a goal to raise $2 million. Once the fund reaches $750,000, the Foundation will match with the first $250,000 contribution, and then continue to match 25 percent of every dollar raised, up to an additional $250,000, to reach that goal.
Bobby Lutz, who chairs the Foundation’s investment committee, said support on the committee for this anchor investment was unanimous.
“Supporting entrepreneurship is an important goal in NMSU’s strategic plan for economic development,” Lutz said. “The investment committee sees this as a multi-faceted investment that could provide significant economic returns to the Foundation. It’s an investment in the school’s infrastructure, and a recruiting and retention tool for both students and faculty.”
The fund will support NMSU’s most commercially promising new technologies – those identified by Arrowhead Center as likely to have a significant market impact in a relatively short time with some capital and business development support.
Work like this has been going on since 2012 through Arrowhead Center’s Launch proof of concept program, which identifies inventions and research products likely to make marketable products and provides cash awards and services to realize the projects’ potential.
“Launch has demonstrated that this model works,” Hansen said. “However, the funds we had to invest were extremely limited. The Aggie Innovation Fund will allow us to truly test the wings of what the NMSU community is creating.”
The fund will be advised by El Paso-based venture capitalist and Arrowhead Center Investor-in-Residence Beto Pallares, a Kauffman Fellow with a network of more than 100 venture funds. His work with Arrowhead Center has made Pallares extremely familiar with NMSU’s research and technology commercialization landscape.
“Rarely is one afforded an opportunity to witness the evolution of an idea from concept and intellectual property development to acceleration and pre-commercialization,” Pallares said. “My years with Arrowhead and my involvement in groups like NMSU’s Intellectual Property Advisory Committee have let me see firsthand the cutting-edge work NMSU researchers are producing – the ideas are there, and we’ll now have the funds we need to move them further along in their commercial paths.”
Pallares said he’s confident the NMSU Foundation’s anchor investment will allow the fund to attract additional supporters, with an ultimate goal of $2 million available for investment.
NMSU President Garrey Carruthers – long a champion of investing in university inventors and innovations – praised the fund as a way to help position the university and Arrowhead Center as regional leaders in technology commercialization.
“Other universities in the region have been trying out these sorts of programs and funds, and we wanted to ensure we stay at the head of the pack,” Carruthers said. “NMSU’s researchers have stepped up with ideas that will change their fields, and we’ve stepped up to make sure they have the support they need to do so.”
Creation of this kind of fund to support innovation was one goal identified by Arrowhead Center when it competed for and won a $2 million Economic Development Administration i6 Challenge grant, which has also funded the expansion of the Launch proof of concept center and the creation and development of the Arrowhead Innovation Network, a group of expert advisers that supports Launch.
“The i6 Challenge grant has made a huge difference in our ability to move NMSU innovation to the market,” Hansen said. “This latest milestone of creating the Aggie Innovation Fund will fill a critical capital investment gap.”