While UTEP is busy churning out hundreds of engineering graduates a year, many of whom will have to leave for opportunities elsewhere, it’s working with Horizon City to keep a few more of them here.
“We’re calling it the Horizon Tech Accelerator Program and working with the university to give talented engineers a place to become entrepreneurs,” says Michael Hernandez, CEO of the Horizon City’s Economic Development Corporation.
Started last year, the HTAP is housed in 2,400 square feet of office space and has helped launch four businesses so far by providing them with work space and support.
All of them are focused on engineering and aerospace projects and come out of UTEP’s W.M. Keck Center for 3D Innovation or the Center for Space Exploration and Technology Research led by Dr. Ashan Choudhuri.
“Basically, it's spinning off the kinds of research projects they’re doing at the university into commercial enterprises and allowing those kinds of things to be built here,” Hernandez says. “They’ll get some capital to get started because some of the up-front expenses are prohibitive to a young entrepreneur.”
One is Hunter Taylor, a 28-year-old UTEP engineering graduate student who’s got a space at the Horizon accelerator and also works with UTEP’s Keck Center.
Taylor is CEO of Tailored Alloys, a company he cofounded with a partner, Laszio Kecskes, a research professor at Johns Hopkins University’s Extreme Materials Institute in Baltimore.
Together, they recently won a $225,000 grant from the National Science Foundation.
“We proposed a methodology to create alloys for specific processes,” Taylor says. “Our application could be used in space or also in the tooling industry.
If he’s not busy enough at the Keck Center and running his company, Taylor is also working on his Ph.D. in engineering.
“I put a lot of irons in the fire expecting only one to light, but they’ve all been taking off,” he says. “I’m not going to say it’s not challenging every day.”
The NSF grant is for one year and is split with the UTEP’s Keck Center. They also have a second-year opportunity to apply for a follow-on grant that would require finding a corporate partner to put $750,000 into the venture.
That could lead to a $1.75 million, two-year grant opportunity if the NSF determines that the end product might be worth the investment.
Taylor, a Virginia native, came to El Paso two years ago with his wife, an Army physician stationed here to complete her medical residency.
Another UTEP engineering graduate and entrepreneur at the Horizon accelerator, Phillip Morton, is 29 and went to El Paso’s Eastwood High School.
He says only a few of his 200 or so UTEP classmates stayed in El Paso after graduating – and they’re not working as engineers.
“I had offers, but they were all out in California or New York. I can’t say I’m surprised, but it’s kind of sad,” he says.
Morton got appointed to be a manager at the Tech Center and also started his own company, PM Technologies, looking at 3D manufacturing and hoping that a Small Business Innovate Research grant he applied for comes through.
Hernandez says he’s glad to have Taylor and Morton at the accelerator.
“One of the things we’re excited about is not only are they starting businesses, they are working on innovations that have some support through federal agencies.”