Tech alum Christopher Nance pitches the Pan Pantry to a room of inventors and investors Friday afternoon.
Cathy Cook| El Defensor Chieftain

The Inventors and Entrepreneurs Workshop was back in full force after a one-year hiatus.

The New Mexico Tech event brings together inventors, entrepreneurs and startup investors for two days of talks and meetings. The event had 140 people register, said organizer Myrriah Tomar, Executive Director for the Office of Innovation Commercialization.

For young entrepreneurs, it’s an opportunity to learn about the business of business, how to protect their inventions, and become inspired by the sometimes culture-altering work of guest speakers. The event is also a chance for some students to pitch their own enterprises to a room that is equal part inventors and investors.

New Mexico Tech’s new Vice President for Research, Michael Doyle, presented on his long career as a researcher and inventor, which included working on the technology behind blockchain, the Cloud and spatial genomics.

Seeing research he worked on shape society has been amazing, Doyle said.

“When spatial biology wound up being Method of the Year by Nature in 2021, you know that was 20 years after we had filed the first patent and named the field basically. It’s like seeing one of your kids graduate from college. It’s just mind blowing.”

His goal is to expand research at Tech, expand collaborations on and off campus, and help researchers access additional resources.

“But also, dramatically expand our tech commercialization operations and help guide faculty in terms of translational research and learning how their discoveries, their new technologies, can find their way from the lab out into the world.”

“I think Socorro, the town, the county, the region, has tremendous potential to become a hub for new technologies, entrepreneurial activity and new breakthroughs, and we’re really just seeing the very, very tip of the iceberg. So, the next few years are going to be really exciting.”

Noted Alum

The keynote speaker was Xbox co-creator, former Microsoft executive, and New Mexico Tech alumni, Ed Fries, who shared his at times surprising journey through the business world.

Fries credits Tech as the place where he learned the science of computer science.

“Tech was amazing. I was completely self-taught programmer at this time, and so to come in, and I mean, this is where I learned C, which is God’s language as far as I’m concerned, it’s the best programming language ever invented, where I learned things like comments. I would write these thousands of lines of assembly with no comments. I learned that’s not a good practice.”

An ongoing theme throughout his career was the way that fun ‘procrastination projects’ turned into surprising opportunities, like the simple fish background he programmed to move while procrastinating on projects for Microsoft, which turned into a fish tank screensaver business.

“I didn’t want to go work for the biggest computer company, and what would become the biggest computer company in the world. I was just screwing around. I was just doing stuff that I enjoyed doing for fun, and you know, that’s what I would encourage the entrepreneurs and inventors here to do as well. Find something you’re really passionate about.”

Fries followed his own passion, against the advice of his bosses, to stop working on Microsoft Word and start working on Microsoft’s gaming department.

“I took over this games group and the next eight years, really games grew quite a bit. We put out a lot of games that gamers will recognize, and then we launched the Xbox.”

After the success of Xbox, Fries retired at 40 and again saw his side projects take on a life of their own, like the Halo game he programmed for the Atari 2600, which made its way into a Smithsonian exhibit, and subsequently the Smithsonian American Art Museum permanent collection.

Fries also reflected on the future of computer programming and the ways AI technology could disrupt the field.

“With Chat GPT, if you’re a programmer and you haven’t used it with co-pilot, things like that, I can tell you they’re going to revolutionize our field. They already are.”

Business Pitches

The workshops also included opportunities for inventors and entrepreneurs to meet with a representative from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, and opportunities for local entrepreneurs to pitch their businesses.

Recent Tech alum and the university’s Director of Esports Damian Banks pitched his esports business Ecliptix. Banks kicked off his pitch with a wrist exercise meant to stave off carpal tunnel, then he gave the audience a quick breakdown of the market opportunities within esports and a crash course on the sport itself.

“Ecliptix Gaming is basically a multifaceted organization within esports focused on esports education and building up career opportunities for the youth,” he told the audience.

The company has grown quickly, and Banks believes they are “taking on an industry that is largely untapped,” especially in the U.S. market.

“It’s valued at over a billion dollars as of 2021. That’s globally. Now, from an American standpoint, only 20 percent of Americans report to have heard of esports while 4 percent total compete, and this graph shows the untapped U.S. esports market, which is 80 percent of the market essentially.”

The Inventors and Entrepreneurs Workshop helped Banks formalize his company. As a Tech student, he was able to connect to the law firm that handled his copyrights and trademarks during a past workshop.

The workshop is “astronomically beneficial” for Tech students, Banks told the Chieftain.

“I think that this is definitely the place that you want to be if you’re trying to make any sort of project for yourself grow. I think Tech has phenomenal resources and networking opportunities that we really don’t have access to otherwise.”

Socorro High School math teacher Christopher Nance pitched his patent-pending organizational product.

Nance is the founder of Pan Pantry. The product is a simple one-piece organizer that holds pans, muffin tins and baking sheets in one place.

“The solution for horizontal bakeware is that it needs to maximize your horizontal and vertical space because of how limited it is. It needs to allow you to easily access your bakeware without having to dig,” Nance told the audience.

He believes the Pan Pantry fulfills a niche in the substantial kitchen organizational products market.

“To summarize our competitive advantage, we are a patent-pending technology that is affordable, that is easy to use, it has no installation or assembly necessary, it maximizes your usable cabinet space, and overall, it’s just great.”

Pitching at the workshop helps him refine his pitch to potential investors, he told the Chieftain.

“The goal for the future of the business is to continue to prove the concept and sell it to somebody who can take this and make it the multi-billion-dollar product we know it is,” said Nance.

Tech offers other resources for inventors and entrepreneurs, including the technology commercialization accelerator, which can help people with questions about intellectual property or help entrepreneurs figure out the next step for starting a business. The accelerator office is located on California Street next to Nusenda Credit Union, which collaborated on creating the space.