Representative Antonio Maestas
Chair of the House Commerce & Economic Development Committee,
New Mexico State Legislature
CC: Committee members
Dear chair and committee members:
New Mexico Innovation Voucher (NMIV--click this link) is a good idea, because it provides small grants (no more than $2,000) designed to enable early stage science and technology companies to overcome business development barriers. However, in recent years, I found some unusual cases which need your attention. As a national technical expert and experienced small business owner, I applied to NMIV five times, but all applications were declined in recent two years. While at least two companies received two NMIV awards in two years, however, they didn’t produce any products. Under the Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA), I inspected recent documents obtained from the New Mexico Economic Development Department (EDD), I have found some shocking insight. After my appeal for my fifth NMIV application was denied by the EDD Cabinet Secretary without any specific reason, I have to report my case to you because I was not informed of any procedure to file my further appeal.
- An unusual applicant and an unusual application process
I received my Ph.D. from the California Institute of Technology, and work as an engineering research professor to conduct basic research. My honor and award include an Office of Naval Research Young Investigator Award, and a Fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. I receive $2M highly competitive funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and DoD as the Principal Investigator. I am also the sole owner of a startup company, created as an I-Corps project of NSF to NMSU when I was an NMSU faculty in 2015 (no conflict of interests with my basic research work). My company develops unique protection products using novel material designs against acting shootings or terror attacks. The users of our major product, the carry-on shields are in more than 10 countries and 30 states in the US. In 2017-2018, our product was recognized by the main news media in New Mexico and Texas including ABQ Journal, KVIA and KOB TV Channels. I think none of the other companies who applied for the same NMIV has the same media coverage. My first NMIV application was declined in April 2018, and my fifth application was declined in August 2019. The Director of EDD’s Office of Science and Technology (Director) is in charge of the NMIV program. The current and previous directors always tell us the declining reasons, so we can improve for the next application.
- Continued denial of my five NMIV applications is against a mathematical principle
I found NMIV’s average declining rate is 50%, so the probability of my five declinations is (50%)5= 3% (a very small probability event and it should not occur), especially every time we made some improvements as the directors suggested. Finally, I find the insight of the continued denial.
- No guidelines, no standards and no qualifications to allocate taxpayers’ money
After I inspected all NMIV documents in 2017-2019 including emails. I didn’t find any EDD internal documents about their guidelines and award standards of NMIV. Only on their website of NMIV, it states that “Applications are reviewed by the Technology Research Collaborative” (see attached PDF file). But I didn’t find any document to show that applications were reviewed by the Technology Research Collaborative after July 2018. Moreover, I found the most recent NMIV review in August 2019 was conducted by EDD administrators (same attached PDF file). On August 5, 2019, the Director proposed the top 10 applications including my fifth application, and asked her two bosses to review and make the award decision. Finally, my application was declined by two EDD administrators. Therefore, 1) EDD violated its own policies, since these applications were not reviewed by the Technology Research Collaborative. 2) These NMIV reviewers must be technical experts (Technology Research…), but these two EDD administrators have no technology research experience at all. While many NMIV applicants have advanced degrees such as Ph.D. or M.S., their applications were reviewed by two administrators without any technical qualification.
The EDD Deputy Cabinet Secretary added his reason to decline my fifth application (attached PDF file). In his email on August 27, “this one (my fifth application) did not sufficiently explain how he would make progress on his technology or business expansion”. However, there is no guideline to show that “make progress on technology or business expansion” is a review topic. I find the nine selected applications have the same issue too, but he just ignored them and only criticized my application. Moreover, “sufficiently” refers to the standard. However, there is no EDD document to show the award standards. He mentioned this is “a competitive process”. I received highly competitive ONR Young’s Investigator award (only 10 % successful rate) and several National Science Foundation research grants (funding rate 10-20%), but I failed five times in NMIV application (funding rate 50%). Obviously, my fifth application was declined due to some hidden reasons.
- Major hidden denial reason---long-term double standards for Asian applications
On September 21, EDD general counsel informed me that my application was not reviewed by the Technology Research Collaborative (TRC) . However, the other nine applications which were recommended by the Director (a technical expert) were not reviewed by TRC also, but they were funded. Only my fifth application was declined by two WHITE administrators. This is a typical double standard, unfortunately, these EDD administrators even did not notice that. In recent three years, there is a ZERO Asian awardee among more than 50 NMIV awardees. My fifth application almost improved their record, but it was declined again because my name is a typical Asian name.
My fifth application deserves an NMIV award because the director recommended my application. Now I feel totally hopeless after five declined applications, so I request your help. Thank you for your attention.
Luoyu R. Xu
Dr. L. R. Xu, ASME Fellow
President, PP-Protection LLC, Las Cruces