The path to becoming an entrepreneur in New Mexico could go something like this: Come to UNM. Ground yourself in the basics. Meet others who have similar interests but different skills. Start a company. That is the basic premise behind an effort by the UNM Provost’s Office and academic administrators as they consider how to construct an Innovation Academy.

Traditionally universities teach students everything possible about a particular subject, but they haven’t taken the next step to assist students who want to use that knowledge to start a company. Now there is new urgency to do more and UNM is looking at creating an Innovation Academy as a means to develop ideas, concepts, products and entrepreneurs.

“Recent studies have stressed the need for graduates who can think critically and creatively, who can work across boundaries and teams, who can express themselves to various audiences and who can chart and modify their own career paths,” said UNM Provost Chaouki Abdallah

With the university located in downtown Albuquerque, where the local unemployment stands at 6.3 percent, there is concern about the number of vacant commercial buildings in the area. UNM President Robert Frank is working with local leaders to find ways to assure that graduates can find fulfilling jobs, even if it means starting a company and creating their own career path.

Currently, STC.UNM, a non-profit corporation owned by the UNM Board of Regents, assists students and faculty members in obtaining patents and starting technology companies. But for students not working in a technical field, the University doesn't have a strong support structure in place. That’s where the Innovation Academy would come into play.

“STC has an incubator and they help businesses get off the ground,” Associate Provost Carol Parker said.  “They function as the end of the pipeline.  Innovation Academy would be the beginning of the pipeline.” 

The hope is students at Innovation Academy would learn how to discover their passions, and how to think creatively about solutions to big societal and technical problems.  Parker has been charged with working with deans and faculty members to construct a framework that would allow faculty to experiment with new ways of teaching and offering opportunities not available through traditional curricula.  Parker says that the Innovation Academy would enroll fine arts, business, law and humanities students as well as engineers and scientists.

Academically this is complex.  It’s not clear yet what the academic path will be for students at Innovation Academy. Parker says they will begin to talk with faculty members who already give their students practical problems as an initial step in putting the curriculum together. 

The physical space for the Innovation Academy won’t be available immediately, and the intent is for innovation to infiltrate all academic spaces.  In addition, UNM is working to build a live/work/play opportunity for students near the corner of Broadway and Central at the old First Baptist Church property as part of the Innovate ABQ initiative. UNM is currently in the process of buying the property. Once the sale is complete, work will begin on a master plan and a search for private partners to invest in the location. One such partner could provide a dormitory-style building for students to live with additional space for them to learn on site.

Parker is hoping to have the framework for the academy sketched out by the fall semester so individual departments can start thinking about how their students can become involved in the project.  For a concept paper on the Innovation Academy click here.