The Mine Gives Student Entrepreneurs a Boost

Originally published January 30, 2015

By Lisa Y. Garibay

UTEP News Service

Being a UTEP Miner has a new spin, thanks to a recently launched incubator for student business ideas.

The Mine, which has its online headquarters at mine.utep.edu, is a one-stop shop for budding entrepreneurs to find all the guidance they need to bring their commercial concepts to fruition.

Students who sign up for The Mine have access to business model development training; coaching on developing a business plan, marketing plan, financial model and funding plan; entrepreneur roundtables for networking; mock investor pitch sessions; and firsthand learning under professional mentors.

Electrical engineering students Edgar Bustamante, Ubaldo Robles and Jesus Gutierrez have been helped into commercialization by UTEP’s entrepreneurial resources. Photo by Ivan Pierre Aguirre / UTEP News Service
From left, electrical engineering students Edgar Bustamante, Ubaldo Robles and Jesus Gutierrez have been helped into commercialization by UTEP’s entrepreneurial resources. Photo by Ivan Pierre Aguirre / UTEP News Service

For years, UTEP has been dedicated to cultivating student entrepreneurs on campus. Resources now include the Mike Loya Center for Innovation and Commerce and the Paso Del Norte Venture Competition in addition to the Center for Research, Entrepreneurship and Innovative Enterprises (CREIE). The goal of each effort is to offer out-of-classroom experiences that introduce students to real-world experiences of commercializing emerging technology, or offering teams of business and science students the chance to innovate new solutions to real-world dilemmas.

These efforts have helped everyone involved see things in a different light, much to the participants’ delight.

For their part, students are thrilled to be given responsibility over developing the commercial aspect of an invention of their own or one that was created by a faculty member.

The Mine – the latest offering by CREIE – gives students whose ideas have commercial potential access to office space, hands-on coaching and partnerships with industry mentors. CREIE has a strong catalogue of patents and intellectual property that are waiting for enterprising student teams to take them out into the world as viable businesses.

Ph.D. candidate Ubaldo Robles came into his own as an entrepreneur when his mentor, Associate Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering Raymond Rumpf, Ph.D., asked him to be part of a team combining business and science know-how to push a new technological advancement out into the world.

“As an engineer, working on creating a business is a new opportunity for improvement,” Robles said. “It has opened my eyes on how the world out there can make you or break you. There are so many ways to create a business that one can get overwhelmed, but by doing something like competing in the Paso Del Norte Venture Competition, I can prepare myself to stay focused on what the critical steps are. This way I feel constantly growing in understanding the way business is done.”

(See more testimonials from the students whose academic and professional lives have been positively impacted by the Paso Del Norte Venture Competition and other UTEP entrepreneurship resources here.)

Unlike annual productions like the Paso Del Norte Venture Competition, The Mine is not just a once-a-year event. “It’s going to be 24/7,” said CREIE Director Gary E. Williams, Ph.D. “We know that there are students out there that have ideas and they just aren’t sure what to do with them.” That’s where The Mine comes in.

Williams stressed that while The Mine is solely for UTEP students, there are no restrictions on whether they are enrolled full or part time.

Classes also are being held to stimulate a desire for entrepreneurship within students. Williams is co-instructing one this semester with Metallurgical and Materials Engineering Professor Thomas Boland, Ph.D., that applies ideas for biomedical engineering to the rigors of a business plan in order for students to learn just what it takes to get a research idea from the lab to patent to the marketplace.

Boland – who has been involved in a very significant start-up during his tenure at UTEP – loves the idea of a place like The Mine for his students to have a space dedicated to business development where they can continue their business-oriented work outside of his classroom.

The Mine is headed up by Williams, CREIE Associate Director Jeni Clark, and Mike Loya Center coordinator Aaron Cervantes, with the support of student interns.

“We’re wanting to develop into a Tier One school and as such there’s so much research going on here,” Clark said. “We don’t want it just sitting on a shelf; we want to get it out in practical application. The labs here on campus are a big source of ideas that can be licensed as a basis for a business.”

Cervantes wants to clarify that The Mine is for any student regardless of their area of study. If you have an idea, they want it.

“We can help you learn a lot,” he said. “You can learn how to talk to business people and convert your specific knowledge into something that more people can understand.”

Business student Leandro Brandi, who is working on new applications for the material graphene, chanced upon CREIE when he was informed of an internship opportunity with the office in a marketing class back in 2010. After securing it and subsequently funneling through several venture competitions, Brandi is an on-campus entrepreneurial expert with valuable advice for fellow students.

“Being an entrepreneur means in a big portion to learn from the everyday changing environment,” he said. “It is important for an entrepreneur to never be afraid of changes and failures because that is also a learning process.”

Professors including Boland and Russ Chianelli, Ph.D., have seen firsthand how well entrepreneurship has flourished at UTEP through the years, which in turn contributes to more jobs in the region and a stronger local economy that also encourages UTEP graduates, particularly those innovating new technologies, to stay in El Paso. Chianelli – who formed colorant company Mayan Pigments with his first doctoral student, Lori Polette-Niewold – hopes that The Mine can help contribute to an even richer future both on and off campus.

The Mine is accepting applications from all UTEP students at this time. Anyone enrolled in the University is encouraged to review and submit the online application. Questions are tailored to help not only the committee but the students themselves to understand where they are on the entrepreneurial path and determine how many of the important bases still need to be covered in order for the business idea to move toward commercialization.

In-person consultations before submitting an application are available by emailing creie@utep.edu. Drop-in hours also are posted outside of The Mine office in Prospect Hall, room 318. The office also offers a shared workspace for students with Wi-Fi and a private conference room.

Upcoming workshops offered by The Mine (with downloadable presentations illustrating steps of each particular process) take place from 1 to 3 p.m. in Burgess Hall room 411 and include “Storytelling to Investors” on Wednesday, Feb. 18, “Stimulating and Driving Innovation” on Wednesday, March 18 and “Shaping a Product Concept” on Wednesday, April 15.