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Rural Entrepreneurship and Innovation
NHF Facilitates Tech Transfer from Government to the Private Sector
Innovation and entrepreneurship have always played an important role in the development of our nation’s economy, particularly in the 20th century, which was just getting started when New Mexico achieved statehood in 1912. During the past 100 years, the economies of our nation and state have undergone continual change, along with stages of growth and contraction.
With the advent and rapid development of the knowledge-based global economy, rural regions have struggled to gain access to the same resources to which most large metropolitan cities and regions have a ready connection. Because of this, rural communities, entrepreneurs and companies find it much more difficult to generate ongoing economic vitality, diversification and growth for their regions.
Many times, unrealistic expectations and demands are placed on research universities and their associated resources when they are charged with providing knowledge-based economic-development opportunities for large rural regions. These efforts have commonly centered around university- and state-related county extension agents and other initiatives. But these models often struggle to provide access to the kind of knowledge-based resources that entrepreneurs and companies need.
New models of technology commercialization
It is therefore increasingly important to create innovative initiatives and organizations that can provide resources, such as applied research and technology commercialization, to facilitate organic economic growth and diversification.
New Horizons Foundation (NHF), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization in Lea County, New Mexico, is one such organization. NHF is a partnership between the county and New Mexico Junior College. The foundation was established in 2011 to help create good-paying jobs for well-trained workers, thereby offsetting economic hardships of the boom-and-bust oil cycles that always hit rural communities in energy-based regions.
NHF has signed agreements with the Department of Defense (DoD) that provide access to DoD’s resources. These include two Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADAs), a license agreement for a DoD sound-suppression technology, and a Partnership Intermediary Agreement with DoD labs that gives NHF clients unprecedented access to more than 8,000 researchers, as well as most research facilities within the DoD network of laboratories.
The challenging part is already accomplished
With NHF playing an intermediary role, one of the most difficult and risky parts for any tech startup—discovering and/or developing technologies—has already been accomplished. Typically, these technologies, originally developed for military applications, are made available through NHF to the private sector for diverse applications across a range of industries.
NHF has an innovative approach for moving discoveries and new technologies into the marketplace. Unlike the more traditional process that many research institutions use, NHF’s agreements with the DoD allow companies to access “de-risked” discoveries and expertise that have been funded by Congress. These technologies at federal research labs are ready for private-sector investment to solve a specific problem or create a new business venture. This is the ultimate in what is commonly called “applied research.”
Pull versus push: discoveries ready to go
The typical tech transfer process requires entities to attempt to push their discoveries into the marketplace. NHF’s process allows available research and cutting-edge technologies to be pulled out of federal labs and into the marketplace by inviting rural business owners to visit labs to see technologies already in use by the military that may have great application for their company and industry.
“I visited several Army labs with NHF representatives,” said PEMCO of New Mexico CEO and president, Garry Buie. “At the time, I had no idea what an Army research lab could offer oilfield companies. I discovered several technologies that could potentially benefit the oilfield manufacturing or oilfield service industries.” One of these—cold-spray technology that PEMCO is utilizing in its Hobbs, New Mexico, facility—will significantly reduce costs for PEMCO’s oilfield equipment-repair business. Other possible applications include repair of rotating shafts, cracked parts, injection molds, extrusion dies, containers or obsolete parts—from airplanes to tugboats. PEMCO is now able to work directly with the U.S. Army Research Laboratory on joint applications for the technology via NHF’s Test Services Agreement. PEMCO has also licensed a DoD sound-reduction technology to develop a more effective muffler, which will be useful for big equipment like drilling rigs, as well as smaller, motor-powered equipment.
Connections, prototyping and field-testing
NHF also provides entrepreneurs access to technology adaptation, engineering, prototyping, testing capabilities, design expertise, prototyping, manufacturing and field-testing capabilities through the federal labs.
The New Mexico Economic Development Department, Office of Science and Technology, has launched the Innovate New Mexico initiative to assist regional microeconomies across New Mexico in these kinds of efforts. Providing New Mexico communities with resources and capabilities to leverage the infrastructure that the State of New Mexico has already put in place is a very important, visionary direction for the state’s economic future. New Horizons Foundation, Lea County and New Mexico Junior College have taken such a step to leverage these resources, and it is already beginning to provide great dividends for southeastern New Mexico.
As New Horizons Foundation’s executive director, Dale Gannaway works closely with the board of directors and staff to utilize the foundation’s business model to provide unique technology-commercialization capabilities for Lea County, New Mexico and the Permian Basin. http://nhfoundation.net/wp/
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