By Liz Warren-Pederson
This month, four teams of Eller MBA and UA science graduate students showcased their ten-week internship experience with the Advanced Technology Transfer Project (ATTP), where they helped prominent Mexican scientists explore the commercial potential of their research. ATTP is a unique partnership among the UA, CONACYT (the Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología) and five prestigious research institutes in Mexico. The collaboration grew out of a bi-national consortium in optics and has been funded by both CONACYT and the Thomas R. Brown Family Foundation. All of the stakeholders came together in Tucson this month to hear again from the students, review the summer’s work, and plan for the future.
ATTP pairs teams of grad students with scientists at the Mexican institutions to evaluate emerging technologies for commercial potential. For ten weeks this summer, the 16 Eller MBA and four UA Ph.D. students worked in small teams to analyze innovations developed at universities in Ensenada, Guanajuato, León, Puebla, and Mérida.
The Mérida team — MBA students Forrest Branch, Neha Krishna, and Arvinth Narayanan, and Georgina Lopez Padilla from the UA Professional Science Master’s program in Applied Science and Business — analyzed the commercial potential of biotech and plant science technologies. “The initial weeks were spent building trust and rapport with scientists who had devoted years toward researching and developing in-vitro and in-vivo laboratory tests on select biotechnologies,” explains Branch, the team’s leader. “We then engaged Mexican-based expertise ranging from exporters, manufacturers, and processors to local knowledge from traditional Mayan botanists.”
The team developed strategic, operational, and financial models, then tested their assumptions using market trends, hard data, and further ideation and modification. Instead of assigning one team member to each potential technology, each member contributed functional expertise to the project as a whole.
“One of the highlights of our consultancy was the demonstrable interest and support by a private U.S. investor given to one of the five innovations and intellectual properties we helped to commercialize,” says Branch. “The innovation and investment could heavily impact Mexico’s agricultural export industry and provide a distinct competitive advantage as a result of the project.”
Beyond the challenge of understanding the science behind the technology under study and its potential market application, the students had to overcome the language barrier and cultural differences. The concept of technology transfer, or bringing university-developed innovations into commercial application, is a relatively new concept to the Mexican research institutes.
The program is now in its fourth year. Eller Distinguished Service Professor Ken Smith, whose economic research focuses on innovation, coordinated the program, a partnership with CONACYT.
“The partnership facilitates the cooperative training of students as well as economic and workforce development in Mexico,” Smith explains.