Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall introduced legislation to improve the Department of Energy's (DOE) technology transfer process and help innovators turn research into marketable products and businesses.
Udall's Accelerating Technology Transfer to Advance Innovation for the Nation (ATTAIN) Act would help New Mexico entrepreneurs create jobs and revolutionary products. The changes it proposes are critical to helping leverage research at the state's two DOE labs and develop high-tech private sector businesses.
Udall discussed the importance of the bill to economic development in New Mexico in a speech on the Senate floor.
"The finest scientists in the world are doing cutting-edge research here in New Mexico's national labs. If we can harness that amazing research by connecting innovators and entrepreneurs, New Mexico could lead the nation in high-tech business and innovation," Udall said. "That's what the ATTAIN Act is all about - improving the DOE's technology transfer process so we can get innovation from the lab bench to the marketplace and create well-paying, high-tech jobs here in New Mexico."
Udall co-hosted a Technology Transfer conference at Santa Fe Community College last August, and his bill incorporates suggestions he heard during the discussion. The bill, which does not authorize new funding, also addresses concerns that have been raised about the DOE's technology transfer process.
Congress created a Department of Energy Technology Transfer Coordinator seven years ago, yet the tech transfer office hasn't come close to meeting its potential, according to a February Inspector General report, which cited numerous deficiencies.
Udall's bill addresses two of the primary concerns. Overall, it would improve the Department of Energy's technology transfer capabilities in three key areas:
-It permanently authorizes new tools for the Secretary of Energy's new department-wide technology transfer office to enable DOE to implement tech transfer responsibilities, measure, and report their progress.
-It authorizes the DOE to create a new Tech Transfer Corps (T2-Corps), modeled after the National Science Foundation's Innovation Corps, to support investments in tech maturation, entrepreneurs, mentors, scientists and engineers.
-And it adapts an existing public-private partnership model used by the Small Business Administration for economic development and applies it to technology transfer. This would increase investment in innovative technologies and enable start-ups to access venture capital.
The third section of the bill addresses one of the biggest barriers new entrepreneurs say they face in New Mexico - access to start-up funding. Since 2008, less than 6 percent of all U.S. venture capital dollars went to seed funds investing, with the vast majority - 70 percent - going to entrepreneurs in just three states: California, Massachusetts and New York.
The goal of the new program would be to channel capital to funds investing in high-growth companies seeking financing in the range of $1 million-$4 million and located in regions of the country underserved by the venture capital markets.
"Cutting-edge research today means high-paying jobs tomorrow," Udall said. "The 75 U.S. industries that are classified as intellectual-property-intensive make up 38 percent of our GDP and directly or indirectly supply over 55 million jobs that on average pay 30 percent higher wages. We need to do all we can to support innovation. By improving technology transfer - the bridge between new discovery and new opportunity - we can grow our economy and create high-paying jobs. I believe this is something we can all support, and I will be working hard to pass this bill."
Udall's bill is supported by numerous businesses and nonprofits throughout New Mexico that benefit from tech transfer.
"The continued growth of our nation's economy relies heavily on the vibrant exchange of ideas between our researchers and our entrepreneurs," said John Freisinger, President & CEO of Albuquerque-based Technology Ventures Corporation. "Improving tech transfer at the Department of Energy is a proven pathway to stimulate, encourage and enable these critical interactions."
Said Kathy Keith, Executive Director of New Mexico Regional Development Corporation in Española, N.M.: "Technology transfer is an important resource for new business start-ups which are critical to growing an economy both in New Mexico and nationally. Senator Udall's bill will make important strides in streamlining the Department of Energy's technology transfer process."
Dale Gannaway, Executive Director of New Horizons Foundation in Lea County, N.M., added, "The proposed legislation is a much needed approach to move technology off the shelves and into the hands of small business and industry. Applying the world-class capabilities of our federal labs, DOE and DOD, to current challenges and working in partnership with industry is critical. The application of technology to address current challenges in the oil and natural gas industry, promises potential solutions to a host of issues, including produced water and transportation which have an immense public benefit. We applaud Senator Udall's leadership to encourage innovation and increase the positive impacts of technology transfer."