In this month’s "The Sounding Board," meet David Kistin, Regional Coordinator for the FLC’s Mid-Continent region and Manager of Technology and Economic Development at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Kistin, a New Mexico native, describes the challenges and rewards involved in bringing a regional perspective to an Executive Board that serves tech transfer professionals from across the country.
How did you get into the field of tech transfer?
I was working in economic development and participated in a workshop on solar energy that Sandia was hosting with a rural New Mexico community. Growing up in New Mexico, I knew about the labs, but I didn’t realize they were involved in community-level work. Soon after that, there was an opening with a program run by the technology transfer office, focused on connecting businesses to labs for technical assistance, and that’s how I joined Sandia. Now I manage a group that focuses specifically on connections to New Mexico companies and small businesses—so I get to participate in events like that first workshop I attended.
What’s it like to work at Sandia?
It's an amazing place. It’s a really big lab, and the breadth of the work that happens here is pretty impressive. One challenge for those of us involved in technology partnerships is to figure out how we can leverage our size and scope for greater impact in the community. The fact that we are largely an engineering lab is great, especially for our programs that are focused on technical assistance, because there are almost 14,000 people here and a lot of them are professional problem solvers. It's really fun when you can make those types of good connections.
What do you wish more people knew about the Mid-Continent region?
This is a part of the country that doesn't always get included in conversations about the innovation ecosystem and tech development, and part of that is because some of the national security work hasn’t really been out there for public consumption until relatively recently. But there is a lot of great research and inventions coming out of these labs, and in terms of regional tech economies there are some powerhouses. I think for anyone from the investment community or the startup community, the Mid-Continent region is worth taking a look at and getting to know a lot better.
How has bringing a regional perspective to the FLC Board been rewarding for you?
I think that's the responsibility of the coordinators, to make sure that as the board makes decisions on the direction of the organization, the members are front and center in those decisions. And nobody represents the regions better than the people who live and work there every day. It’s really great to be at a Member Connect or an Awards ceremony and hear about the success stories from any of our regional labs, but I do feel a little more pride when it's a success story from the Mid-Continent region.
What’s something about being part of the FLC Board that has surprised you?
A great thing about being part of the Board is getting to visit other labs and see other operating environments and how other labs are doing things. I think sometimes we take for granted that certain policies or norms are the way they are because that’s how it has to be. And it's always kind of a surprise just to see that, whether it’s NIH or DoD or DOE, we all have common issues—but how they're addressed can be so different. Being able to see some different permutations of what it means to be in tech transfer is really cool.