Venture Capitalists Offer Advice to New Mexico Tech Professors, Oct. 21, 2008

Dr. Snezna Rogelj

Dr. Snezna Rogelj presents her concept for a device that provides rapid, highly-sensitive, DNA-based detection of pathogens at the inaugural Technology Workshop at New Mexico Tech.

By Thomas Guengerich

SOCORRO, N.M., Oct. 21, 2008 – Brain power, meet business acumen.

Seven New Mexico Tech professors presented their research to a panel of venture capitalists and business incubation specialists at the inaugural Technology Workshop on Friday, Oct. 10.

Dr. Peter Anselmo, chairman of the Department of Management at Tech, organized the Technology Workshop to bring Tech professors together with industry leaders. The expert panel includes some of New Mexico’s most prominent venture capitalists from the Verge Fund and Flywheel Ventures.

“We’re getting Tech researchers linked with the venture capital community,” Anselmo said. “We have a campus full of brilliant scientists who are doing ground-breaking research and patent-worthy work. These innovative ideas can’t grow in a vacuum. I want to help grease the tracks to bring some of these concepts to the market.”

The seven presentations represent seven different departments on campus:

  • Dr. David Burleigh, Materials Engineering,
  • Dr. Robert Bowman, Earth and Environmental Sciences, presented by Jaron Andrews
  • Dr. Anders Jorgensen, Electrical Engineering
  • Dr. Peng Zhang, Chemistry
  • Dr. Ashok Ghosh, Mechanical Engineering
  • Dr. Peter Anselmo, Management, presented by Delilah Vega-Walsh
  • Dr. Snezna Rogelj, Biology

Burleigh discussed a process he developed to electrochemically grow a protective magnetite film on the surface of steel. The panelists seemed interested in the large-scale applicability for the steel industry, which spends millions every year fighting rust.

The panelists said Burleigh might have missed an opportunity by applying for a U.S. patent, but not an international patent.

“So much of the world’s steel action is outside the United States,” said Doug Lee of the WESST Enterprise Center in Albuquerque.

He also said that researchers at LSU are working on a similar technology, but that Burleigh’s methods are much more cost-effective.

Bowman has developed a zeolite-iron filtration system that cleans water. His research, presented by master’s student Jaron Andrews, focuses on a wide range of applications from small-scale operations in rural, developing-country communities, to large-scale operations for industry and large municipal water systems.

Panelists were very encouraging about the potential marketability of Bowman’s patented processes.

Chris Haase, of Shell Oil’s business incubator, GameChanger, said the methodology has global marketability on a large scale.

John Chavez, of the New Mexico Angels investor group, said the concept would be scalable in China, India, Africa and elsewhere. Haase suggested Alberta as a potential customer because the Canadian province has massive amounts of produced water and no solution for decontamination.

Jorgensen presented his concept for a new business approach to using artificial-intelligence, in this case genetic programming, to automate foreign-exchange trading. In general, the panelists said the concept needs more development; however, they had plenty of suggestions for marketing and trademarking the finished product.

Dr. Peng Zhang

Left: Dr. Peng Zhang gets advice from Chris Haase, a business incubation specialist with Shell Oil Co.’s GameChanger. In the background at left is Jaron Andrews, a Tech graduate student who spoke about Dr. Rob Bowman’s patented zeolite processes.

Zhang has designed a photosensitizer, which potentially satisfies the requirements to become a next-generation photodynamic therapy drugs for cancer treatment. In short, Zhang has developed a method of locally activating medicine by applying light to the human body.

Panelists encouraged Zhang to patent and trademark his methods and designs.

Ghosh presented his research into developing a “Smart Helmet,” a method of layering metals that can adapt its strength and stiffness depending on the surrounding environment. Panelists were very encouraging. They urged Ghosh to develop a trademark and start small. They said the biggest market might not be the best market.

Haase suggested starting with toy and recreation market, like skateboard kneepads and helmets, as opposed to military helmets.

Again, panelists encourage Ghosh to trademark and patent his design, siting GoreTex as an example of a recognizable brand that excels by reputation and not by monopoly.

Graduate student Delilah Vega-Walsh presented a project supervised by Anselmo as part of Governor Richardson’s Media Industries Strategies Project. Anselmo’s group has developed LiveResearch, an interactive, web-based alternative methodology for focus group research and a research tool for investigation of the impact of information on opinions. LiveResearch is software that is ready for the market. Walsh said her team’s projections indicate a potential revenue stream of $5 million to $7 million per year.

The software would be marketed to research and polling firms. The innovative feature is the combination of powerful interaction and high-level administrative functionality, Walsh said. Panelists seemed skeptical about the revenue projections and size of the market, but were overall encouraging and were impressed with Walsh’s multimedia presentation.

Rogelj talked about her rapid, highly-sensitive, DNA-based detection of pathogens for identification of deadly biological materials for medical, bioterrorist, and other purposes.

– NMT –