Opportunities knocking for NM tech economy

Mary Monson

Editor’s Note: New Mexico Angels’ members, investors and start-up owners submit occasional columns on economic development and start-up opportunities in the state. The Angels unite individual investors to pool their resources, providing seed and early-stage capital to startup companies.

When I moved to New Mexico more than 30 years ago, Albuquerque had a vibrant tech industry.

Some of the biggest names in electronics were operating up and down the Rio Grande valley. Over time, a combination of events — including the dot-com crash and declining investments in technology — led many of these companies to move away or shutter their operations. Now, few people remember New Mexico as the tech hub it used to be.

But that could change in the coming years. Two projects announced by the Department of Energy and led by Sandia National Laboratories are adding to the recent drumbeat of opportunities for New Mexican business leaders, entrepreneurs and investors to rebuild the state’s tech industry.

Worth a total federal investment of more than $8 million, plus matching funds from partners over the next three years, the two projects will directly impact New Mexico by helping local small businesses in clean energy technology grow to become cornerstones of our regional economy, creating well paying, domestic, advanced manufacturing jobs in the process.

I manage the team at Sandia Labs leading these two efforts. In my 25 years of experience working in partnerships between Sandia and businesses, I’ve rarely seen a series of opportunities as potentially transformative for New Mexico as the ones we are experiencing now.

The Energy Department initiatives coincide with the CHIPS and Science Act — federal law signed in August to expand domestic semiconductor manufacturing, research and development of new technology, and workforce training — and the America’s Frontier Fund, a new venture fund that has announced plans to operate extensively in New Mexico.

Collaboration will be key to rebuilding the state’s tech economy. The first project Sandia is leading, which we call the C-4 Partnership Model, is in support of a new, 100,000-square-foot technology incubator in New Mexico. This will be a high-tech, shared manufacturing facility where companies, academia and national laboratories can come together to research and produce cutting-edge materials and advanced manufacturing solutions. These developments will help solve some of our nation’s most urgent challenges in climate and energy.

The second project, which we’re calling the Boost Platform, focuses on identifying and removing systemic barriers to diverse startups partnering with national labs. Research consistently shows that only a sliver of venture capital funding goes to women and minority startup founders. This national disparity hits diverse states like New Mexico especially hard, making it exceptionally difficult for many of the innovators who live here to get a foothold in the marketplace. Partnerships with national laboratories can be one source of support to offset this imbalance.

Our ecosystem benefits enormously from a State Investment Council willing to invest in tech transfer, and groups like the New Mexico Angels who enable early-stage growth. Our goal is to add value to this community by increasing the number of local spin outs around DOE lab technologies and creating a platform for labs and the venture community to collaborate.

For these projects to succeed, Sandia needs the voices and perspectives of entrepreneurs across our beautiful, innovative state. We will be setting up community meetings in the future to listen to what diverse startups need. In the meantime, we invite members of New Mexico’s business and investment community to email their ideas to my team at partnerships@sandia.gov. Or, come talk to us in person at that the Center for Collaboration and Commercialization inside the Lobo Rainforest Building at 101 Broadway NE in Downtown Albuquerque. Walk-ins are welcome.

I am personally thrilled by these opportunities, but as a community we must seize the moment. This influx of federal dollars is only seed funding to kickstart a new, self-sufficient economy. It could be decades before we get another chance like this.