Several classes looking at creative people and businesses as part of semester’s work
Bill Bice stands on stage and asks some 250 people crammed into a converted homeless shelter in Downtown Albuquerque to close their eyes and daydream for a minute.
“Imagine a future of Albuquerque that is populated by million-dollar companies,” said Bice, chairman and president of ABQid, a business accelerator.
“Imagine a place where getting a $15 million investment in a company is an everyday occurrence.”
The crowd at Epicenter — the first of a group of buildings now called the Innovate Albuquerque site — listens.
Just like cities now known for innovation, Albuquerque “has some of the smartest people in the world.”
“Ok, you can open your eyes now,” he says.
Across Albuquerque, many slowly are opening their eyes and minds to a growing movement of creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship. It’s a group that includes millennials and middle-aged women. It’s a mix of start-uppers and tinkerers. It’s people who develop apps that track your bus, folks who are building a business park in shipping containers and innovators who connect teenagers and seniors to solve computer problems. It’s girls who code and a company that’s promoting New Mexico artists online and a group behind technology that allows iPads to work as cash registers.
It’s a movement many call New Mexico’s innovation economy. It involves quiet work — high tech and not so high — in makerspaces tucked away in the corners of the Duke City and its surroundings.
It’s also one that has fun and flashy public events, like the Demo Day at Epicenter late last month, where representatives of 10 companies made pitches to the public. The atmosphere was upbeat like a concert, with club music and dance lights and neon pillars.
Voting for the best pitch happened over social media, where the enthusiasm continued in virtual fashion.
The movement is pushing forward under the power of dreamers carrying backpacks and briefcases. It includes innovators in t-shirts and others in business suits, and involves New Mexico’s studio dwellers and the cubicle inhabitants, all working toward something.
And that something is growing.
“I’ve been here 20 years and I’m seeing it really take off. It’s amazing the growth,” said Sarah Biondi, a participant in Demo Day and owner and founder of OAC Gallery, an online art gallery that sells curated works from around the state and beyond.
“There’s finally a hub for it.”
The hub of activity for the Demo Day includes Michelle Urban, whose Pressure Analysis Company is working on skull caps that athletes can wear under their helmets to detect impacts during sports. The impacts can be tracked and analyzed by doctors or coaches.
“It’s definitely gaining momentum and people are very interested in what’s going on, and in seeing each other succeed,” Urban said.
Looking around at the crowd shortly before the event began, Urban said “This is evidence of it being a thing.”
That something isn’t one thing, exactly. The pitches at the event showed the diversity of ideas.
Audience members heard from a company that’s developing genetic testing for racehorses, one that helps women get back into the workplace and another that allows proximity-based file sharing.
Each of the companies selected to give pitches at Demo Day was a story in its own. Many audience members, too, had something interesting to share.
To cover all that is happening, journalism students at the University of New Mexico this semester are writing a variety of stories about the innovation economy. The stories will be published here on the New Mexico News Port, and will include profiles of entrepreneurs, stories on companies on the cusp of success, and a look at the support and infrastructure behind the activity. We’ll also be writing about UNM’s Innovation Academy, a group of classes that teach innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship.
As editor of the News Port, I’m excited to work with students on these stories, much in the way that mentors for the up-and-coming entrepreneurs in this new movement must be.
It turns out that such mentorship and support for Albuquerque’s newest companies is growing along with the number of new businesses.
A year and a half ago, Albuquerque didn’t have a business accelerator. It now has five, including ABQid, which hosted the demonstration event.
A year ago, the Duke City had few, if any, businesses that got $1 million investment. But last month, APPCityLife, a civic-tech company here, raised $1.1 million in seed-round funding.
And in June, Lavu, an Albuquerque start-up behind a point-of-sale system for restaurants that runs on iPads, landed a $15 million investment.
For his part, Bice, back at the Epicenter, knows many around the city are aiming high.
“I don’t take lightly what we are trying to accomplish,” Bice says in his closing remarks, before the crowd headed out for an early Friday evening reception.
“It only seems daunting because we haven’t gotten there yet.”