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CONTACT: Zetdi Sloan, 575-646-7833, zrunyan
On any given day, Richard Guadalupe McDonald, a Las Cruces biomedical researcher and former Army captain, has dozens of ideas for new and life-changing technologies running around his head. Most recently, he’s been focused on a small device that he hopes will save military and civilian lives by providing a safer way to enhance visibility under dangerous conditions.
The only problem? Creating a prototype through the private sector to show to potential investors or other scientists for collaboration would cost at least $15,000 to $25,000, he estimates.
“I’m not Boeing,” McDonald said. “I can’t spend that much on each iteration of a prototype for this project.”
That’s where an initiative that rolled out last fall at Arrowhead Center, the entrepreneurship and innovation hub at New Mexico State University, comes in. Known as the Foster Innovation Exchange, or FIX, the initiative is funded by a $1 million gift in 2017 from Paul and Alejandra De La Vega Foster of El Paso, given as part of NMSU’s $125 million Ignite Aggie Discovery fundraising campaign.
FIX has two flagship programs – Community Entrepreneurship Partnerships and Product Design Awards. Zetdi Sloan, director of FIX, said the overarching goal of the programs is to create a space where innovative student- and community-based projects and partnerships can take shape.
“We’ve designed FIX to bring together researchers, students, industry, government and community into new collaboration opportunities that will help address some of the challenges that face the Borderplex region,” Sloan said.
McDonald received a FIX Product Design Award, allowing him to work with Arrowhead Center’s computer-assisted design team of engineering students, which helped him produce a 3-D printed prototype of his device’s exterior and advised him on how to purchase and integrate the technology’s micro-electronic components to create a prototype for under $200.
The new prototype represents a leap forward on McDonald’s path to publishing about the technology in an appropriate peer-reviewed journal and making it openly available worldwide.
“It takes that mountain out of the way: ‘Oh, this is impossible.’ That’s the biggest hurdle,” he said. “You can actually move forward on your path. Often that’s the hurdle – you need to show somebody something. Not a napkin drawing. When they can see and touch a prototype, you’ve already got their attention.”
Next up, he’ll be working with the team on miniaturizing the components and exploring what additional micro-instruments or features could potentially add value to the design.
Help like this is available to companies, inventors and entrepreneurs throughout New Mexico and the Borderplex region through the FIX Product Design Awards. Potential clients can apply for a competitive award of services in a growing list of specialties, including CAD modeling, microelectronics design, prototyping and manufacturing for physical products.
Sloan said the projects chosen for the FIX Product Design Awards are those that have the greatest market feasibility and potential to have an economic impact through job creation in the region. Since the program’s launch last fall, 17 clients have received awards, making them eligible for up to about 50 hours of work from the team. Selected clients work with engineering students to customize their prototype design, while the students gain valuable experience in the process.
Will O’Neill, a senior set to earn his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering technology in December, said working with the different types of projects he’s seen from clients gives him an edge when applying for future design positions. He’s interested in prototype design as a potential career path, possibly in the military technology or medical fields.
O’Neill said it’s not just the technical skills he’s been honing through his work in the prototyping lab. “Another thing that I’m learning is being able to talk to a customer, and being able to get the information about what they want out of a product,” he said. “You have to be able to get a product idea across clearly so that everyone can understand the concept and what the individual really wants to create.”
Sloan said the other important facet of FIX is enhancing programs to support traditionally underserved populations. FIX is doing that by launching the Foster Community Entrepreneurship Partnerships to offer more opportunities for women, veteran and Spanish-speaking entrepreneurs.
FIX will support expanded programming for Arrowhead Center’s Women Entrepreneurs Mean Business conference, set for spring 2019. Plans for the conference include additional mentorship opportunities and workshops, along with speakers who will explore the conference’s themes of diversity and inclusion in entrepreneurship.
“Building on our programs that are created to highlight issues that women, veterans and others face is just part of our goal, though,” Sloan said. “We also want to work toward building an environment here in the Borderplex in which the access and opportunities for people who are overlooked in the world of entrepreneurship become more equal. That means making more people aware of the support that’s available for them and instilling a culture in our region that values having these voices in the conversation about economic development.”
Looking ahead, Sloan said FIX will also introduce periodic Innovation Challenges, which will provide a platform for regional companies of all sizes to crowdsource solutions to their critical business, scientific and technical problems by leveraging the power and resources of NMSU’s body of expertise. Companies interested in posing a problem for an upcoming Innovation Challenge can contact Sloan at zrunyan or 575-646-7833 for more information.
Arrowhead Center director Kathryn Hansen said the support from the Foster family is essential for the work Arrowhead and its partners in the region are doing to build a strong entrepreneurial ecosystem.
“This support is helping Arrowhead break down some of the barriers to economic growth in the Borderplex region and create on-ramps for underserved entrepreneurs,” Hansen said. “We see this program growing in new directions that support innovation and collaboratively applying our resources to address challenges that industry partners face.”
For more information about the Foster Innovation Exchange, or to apply for a FIX Product Design Award, visit arrowheadcenter.nmsu.edu/fix.