Erin Miller was born in California and moved with her parents to Colorado when she was a child. She grew up in the Denver area and, after high school, decided she wanted to do something different from her classmates — so she moved to Colorado Springs. Today, the 31-year-old is the managing director and technology transfer program manager at the Center for Technology, Research and Commercialization. Miller spoke about her job and the importance of empathy.
How did you end up in the community?
I grew up in Aurora and went to high school at Smoky Hill. When I graduated I went to UCCS and got my undergraduate degrees in political science and communication. I was putting myself through college and I worked at Starbucks a long time — seven years. I worked my way into management and decided after the 2008 crash to get a master’s degree [in communication]. I’m sure I’m not the only one who made that decision.
When I was in high school, everyone wanted to go to CU Boulder or [Colorado State University]. I just didn’t want to do that. I wanted to do something different — the unpaved path.
What kept you here?
Getting a job at the Air Force Academy. I worked there for six years before I came to CTRAC.
I got an internship at the Air Force Academy about the time I was finishing grad school; I was working in the research office for two or three months. From there I was picked up to work a full-time, real job. I supported technology transfer … which is primarily partnerships with industry — collaborating between government and industry.
The Air Force Academy is a federal lab; it’s not just a university or an academic center. They have 19 research centers and two institutes and do research and development. They have an active tech-transfer program. I spent six years working that effort. From there I started to learn about Catalyst Campus and the movement toward getting small businesses and companies headquartered in Colorado Springs. In talking with the folks building this enterprise, I learned they wanted a technology transfer function to exist here. My role now isn’t in the laboratory environment, but I’ve taken everything I learned in the laboratory environment and all the opportunities I saw, and I’m essentially educating small businesses and industry on how they can get involved in collaborating with any type of government entity.
Did your work at Starbucks prepare you for the work you’re doing now?
Yes. I would say the heavy customer focus is extremely important. In my last years working at Starbucks — retail wears on you a bit — my empathy levels were getting a little lower. Realizing that’s what keeps people successful in most jobs, empathy, and being able to support their customer — that takeaway has made me successful, I think.
What is tech transfer?
To me, it’s collaboration. I know that’s such a simple way to put it, but that’s what it is.
A lot of people know there are defense contractors out there who get paid by the government to perform services or develop products. Tech transfer is outside of that acquisition cycle and it’s in a more collaborative environment.
Will this affect Colorado Springs?
Tech transfer has been a thing since 1980, but a thing in Colorado Springs much more recently. There was federal tech transfer law in 1980; that’s when the first legislation was passed. The whole idea was whatever taxpayers had paid for, they should be able to take advantage of those developments. At the time, they had thousands of patents sitting on shelves that were paid for by taxpayers. [The government] wanted to make those available to private industry and individuals. Making that information well known, and the process behind it available to companies in Colorado Springs, will allow them to become more sustainable.