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NAU Monetizing Research

The word “incubator” brings to mind a bunch of fluffy, yellow baby chicks that are kept warm and nurtured until they are grown up enough to fend for themselves. Actually, it is not a far stretch to call the Northern Arizona Center for Emerging Technolo- gies an “incubator.” It too keeps new ideas and inventions and their creators under its wing until they are able to take care of themselves.

In fact, NACET calls itself an “incubator program” that helps people with ideas match up with businesses that could help finance and market their inventions in the areas of science, high tech and renewable energy.

“In many ways, as vice president for research, I am responsible for seeing to it that the univer- sity’s innovation and creativity is translated into business and economic development,” said Dr. Laura Huenneke of Northern Arizona University. “This is what makes the incubator so important. It connects us with the real world of commercial opportunities and with small business develop- ment.”

Named NAU Ventures, the university has been involved with NACET for the past three years. During that time, they have partnered on about 18 invention disclosures, which are good ideas that the university claims and wants to start protecting – the first steps toward a patent.

“It is a very, very slow process to actually get a patent. The incubator increases those chances and speeds up the process,” Huen- neke said.

One of the baby chicks is Stephen Atkins, a research engineer at Northern Arizona Univer- sity. He is working to make renewable energy like methanol with the help of NACET. One of the projects on which he has been working is capturing fumes from a brewery before they enter the atmosphere to mix with the fuel.

“We are making progress and, pending a grant, if we get the grant, we will be produc- ing enough demonstrable quantity to move forward,” Atkins said.

That would include constructing a mini-plant capable of producing 1,000 gallons a month, which could be used to power automobiles or as a propane substitute.

Atkins said NACET has been working closely with him.

“They have been good at hooking up with the business process. We are more focused on getting it to work from an engineering per- spective,” Atkins said. “They have opened our eyes to the markets. They find markets and other uses for the fuel, like fireplace fuels and replacing propane.”

Russ Yelton was hired as president and CEO of NACET about nine months ago. His background is in launching incubator programs and he said the one in Flagstaff is special.

“The level of commitment between the city and the university is something most regions strive for, but few can get enough stakeholder involvement,” he said. “The city demon- strates its involvement with a yearly contract with NACET and the university demonstrates its involvement with a yearly contract with NACET.” As a result, the support enables NACET to function as the technology transfer office for the university.

He said most of the patents are coming out of engineering, environmental science and biotechnology.

Huenneke said it is not the goal of the uni- versity to make huge profits on the inventions. The real goal is to create ideas that enhance economic development for the region, to inspire new businesses or expand existing ones. It also enhances education in that if the professors at the university are working on real world projects, it will help students become more prepared for the real work.

Stacey Button, economic vitality director for the city of Flagstaff, said that NACET is a real asset to the city and calls what they do together “economic gardening,” or growing your own businesses and economy.

“These businesses are able to grow, to stay here in Flagstaff and to increase job creation, the work force and wages,” Button said. “It comes full circle between NACET, the univer- sity and the city.” FBN

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