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2016 STC Innovation Awards Dinner Recognizes Talented University Inventors

On March 23rd, University of New Mexico faculty, staff, and student inventors were honored for their achievements.  The awards event is planned and hosted each year by STC.UNM, the university’s technology-transfer and economic-development organization, to recognize the creative work of these inventors whose research has resulted in new technologies that have received patents within the past year.  Master of Ceremonies for the evening was STC Board Vice Chair Dr. Joseph Cecchi.

President Frank, who provided opening remarks, said that one of the highlights of being UNM’s president, is “this event where we can shine a light on the wonderful innovations being created by faculty, staff and students who are contributing to New Mexico’s Rainforest in the Desert.”

More than 200 guests were present as the 63 inventors received plaques and stipends recognizing the issued patents they received within the past year for 57 technologies created at the University of New Mexico.  The inventions spanned the spectrum from biocides, biosensors, fuel cells, and  CO2 membranes to DNA sequencing, tissue engineering, new drug treatments for cancer and many nanotechnologies for semiconductor devices, flow cytometers, superhydrophobic coatings and interferometric microscopies.

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“Since the first innovation awards event in 2004, the number of U. S. patents issued to UNM and the number of UNM inventors who have received patents have more than doubled,” said STC CEO Lisa Kuuttila.  “This year’s number of patents and number of inventors have surpassed last year’s.  Many of these patented technologies are the basis for start-up companies.  We have fifteen start-up companies exhibiting here tonight that I would like to thank for being here tonight.  Over the past ten years, 102 start-up companies have been created from UNM technologies.  Approximately 60 percent of the companies are still in business, which is above the national university start-up rate of 50 percent.”

The event also honored the 2016 STC.UNM Innovation Fellow, an award given by the STC.UNM Board of Directors to an outstanding UNM inventor whose body of technologies have made significant social and economic impact.  This year the award was given to Dr. Gabriel P. López, UNM vice president for research and professor in the Department of Chemical & Biological Engineering.  Dr. López, a native New Mexican who has had a long research career at UNM since 1993, recently returned from Duke University where he had been a professor of biomedical engineering while remaining an adjunct professor at UNM.

Dr. López thanked the STC Board and staff for the award and the hard work that went into making the evening so successful.  “This award is a great honor.  I have yearned for home and missed the excellent services provided by STC.  As an inventor, I feel very nurtured here.  STC is doing a wonderful job within UNM and across the state.”  In his speech, Dr. López emphasized the importance of collaboration to his research.  “None of my work at UNM has been done alone but has been done with many other researchers at UNM.  Albert Einstein said that imagination is more important than knowledge and I say friends are more important than both!”

Dr. López acknowledged the many researchers he has worked with from both main and HSC campus departments in developing biomaterials that have biosensing abilities.  This collaborative work in creating lifelike microparticles that mimic the biofunctionality of cells has led to the creation of many technologies for hybrid materials, bioseparation, biosensing and biofouling mitigation, several start-up companies, and the creation of the Center for Biomedical Engineering in UNM’s School of Engineering.  “I hope to continue my work with these great groups of friends and develop many more friendships that will help me succeed as UNM’s vice president for research.  The health of the university’s basic research enterprise is critical to innovation and the large number and variety of patents and inventors being recognized tonight is a testament to its power.”

Ms. Kuuttila noted during her remarks that along with Dr. López, nearly all of the past STC Innovation Fellows were also being recognized for multiple issued patents.

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A special recognition was also given to distinguished professors Dr. Steven Brueck and Dr. Jeffrey Brinker, who were nominated by the STC Board to the National Academy of Inventors (NAI) and chosen by the academy as 2015 NAI Fellows.  This national honor for academic inventors applauds their achievements in creating outstanding inventions that impact quality of life, economic development and the welfare of society.  Drs. Brueck and Brinker are STC 2010 and 2015 Innovation Fellows, respectively.  Both were recently inducted as NAI Fellows at the NAI national conference in Washington, DC.  See the  article on the induction ceremony.

The evening’s keynote speaker was Eddie Wang Rodriguez, J.D.  Mr. Wang Rodriguez is a member of the law firm Mintz Levin Cohn Ferris Glovsky and  Popeo, PC.   Mintz Levin is a 500-attorney law firm with offices in Boston, Los Angeles, New York, San Diego, San Francisco, Stamford, Connecticut, Washington, DC and London.  The firm serves clients of all sizes and at all stages of growth, representing Fortune 500 companies, entrepreneurs, emerging growth and established companies, government agencies, and nonprofits.  Mintz Levin has served as one of the leading law firms to the life sciences industry since the industry’s birth in the 1970s and was chosen as a 2016 Best Law Firms by the U.S. News & World Report and Best Lawyers publication.

eddiewang2016He is the managing member of Mintz Levin’s San Diego office and also serves on the firm’s policy committee. His practice is focused on a full range of corporate and securities matters, including corporate formation, mergers and acquisitions, venture financing, technology licensing, and general business counseling for both public and private companies.  He has extensive experience with counseling public and private companies in the medical devices, mobile, life sciences, healthcare services, telecommunications, software, hardware, e-commerce, and information technology industries in a broad range of transactional matters.  Mr. Wang Rodriguez received his law degree from Stanford Law School.

Mr. Wang Rodriguez spoke about his 21 years of experience in working with start-up companies initially in Silicon Valley and currently in San Diego, where he has been a part of San Diego’s vibrant innovation ecosystem for the past 15 years.  “I am impressed with what UNM has done to develop an innovation ecosystem in New Mexico by involving many different partners from the city and business community to professors and students.  Ecosystems and start-up companies can come and go.  Los Angeles is a good example of an emerging ecosystem that collapsed but came back.  The secret to successful companies depends on 30 percent good technology and 70 percent on good people.  The secret to successful ecosystems is an increase in better people.  In San Diego, the talent used to leave but now quality people are staying and that has made a difference.”

Mr. Wang Rodriguez stressed that he has always wanted to work with entrepreneurs and innovators, hence his professional focus in partnering with start-ups and universities.  Based on his observations and experiences in working with successful innovators and entrepreneurs, he shared three key qualities contributing to their success:

  1. They have a “how-hard-can-it-be” attitude toward solving problems which helps them get past difficult obstacles.
  2. They have the honey badger attitude toward achieving their goals. They aren’t concerned about other people’s criticisms and don’t let other people stop them from fulfilling their dreams.
  3. They have the ability to visualize ideas and innovations that haven’t been created yet and build them.

In closing, Ms. Kuuttila extended a special thank you to the eight intellectual property law firms who were sponsors for the event.  “These law firms provide legal services to STC, offering expert legal counsel to STC staff and UNM inventors.  Their generous sponsorships at the gold, silver and bronze level made it possible for STC to award financial stipends to the inventors honored tonight.”