Lisa Kuuttila

Win Quigley’s Upfront article in the Dec.17 edition of the"Albuquerque Journal", 'Does ‘Innovate ABQ’ Need a Home?,' assumes that presently there are no entrepreneurs or start-up companies to occupy the Broadway facility—that there are no tenants for it and therefore there is no present need for it.

That is not the case at all.

The business community encouragement for the project the city and UNM have received indicates that there’s lots of support for a physical site for Innovate ABQ.  Here’s just a sampling of groups: The BioScience Center, New Mexico Angels, Norwest Equity Partners, Verge Fund, ARCH Venture Partners, Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, Mid-Region Council of Governments and Martineztown.

Currently, there are twenty-six start-up companies based on UNM technology occupying space in various spread-out locations around Albuquerque, including many in business incubators already at full capacity, run by a thriving and growing community of entrepreneurs.   Out-of-state entrepreneurs are already coming to Albuquerque.  As Win Quigley notes in his article of Dec.18, we have a net in-migration of people with college and advanced degrees. Some of these folks are the entrepreneurs and employees of the small, but growing start-up ecosystem here in New Mexico. Thirty-eight percent of the CEOs heading up UNM’s start-up companies are transplants.  The Broadway facility is designed to enable such companies to be co-located where entrepreneurs can interact with each other and venture capital investors, and where they can engage with entrepreneurial students.  Proximity really does make a difference.  The problem we have now is that we have no benefit from co-location of our companies.

The concept of business incubation has been the most successful and cost-efficient strategy nationally for creating home-grown businesses. In 2011, a study concluded that the various business incubators in New Mexico who follow best practices created over 2,500 jobs. These include the WESST Incubator near the Broadway location, the South Valley Kitchen Incubator, the Santa Fe Business Incubator, the Enterprise Center at San Juan College, the Arrowhead Technology Incubator, and the Clovis Business Incubator.  Incubator successes tend to be small and incremental and do not make big splashes on the front pages of the newspapers. But they do consistently and methodically turn out new businesses and provide new jobs.

One of the primary activities at the Innovate ABQ Broadway site will be starting businesses like the incubators mentioned above except that its efforts will be focused on start-ups using proprietary technologies that have been coming out of the University of New Mexico at an impressive annual rate for several years now.  These start-ups are financed by angel investors and venture capital firms. Technology start-up companies and the research activities that go hand-in-hand with their success require specialized facilities, equipment and labs—another reason why we need a building that will address this need.  New Mexico State recently inaugurated such a facility at its Arrowhead Park. The BioScience Center, a privately operated biotechnology incubator in Albuquerque, began operations early this year and was full within six months.

Another important activity that the Broadway site will provide, in conjunction with UNM’s community partners, is entrepreneurial training, critical for the third activity that the site will support:  student-involved start-up companies.  A residential dorm will be co-located at the site for UNM and CNM students in close proximity to companies, internships and mentorships for entrepreneurial students to create and land the knowledge worker jobs that are so critical to improving our economy

There has never been a better opportunity to take advantage of New Mexico's unique capabilities and develop them to scale than right now. Innovate ABQ can help bring our national laboratories (Sandia, Los Alamos and Air Force Research Laboratory), our research universities (UNM, New Mexico State University, and New Mexico Tech) and Central New Mexico together to grow our existing start-ups while creating many more of them. Let's do this. 

Lisa Kuuttila is the CEO & Chief Economic Development Officer, STC.UNM