UNM Rainforest Innovations

Lisa Kuuttila provided an op-ed piece for the Albuquerque Journal reposted below. View the posting on the Albuquerque Journal website here

By Lisa Kuttila, CEO & Chief Economic Development Officer of UNM Rainforest Innovations

The entrepreneurial ecosystem in Albuquerque and New Mexico is expanding dramatically with major strides recently unfolding.

Entrepreneurship benefits everyone in the state, because young businesses create nearly all of the nation’s net job growth. Research also shows that entrepreneurship greatly reduces the poverty rate: for every 1% increase in the entrepreneurship rate, the poverty rate decreases by 2%.

A major focal point of entrepreneurship in New Mexico is InnovateABQ, the 7-acre innovation site located on Central Avenue midway between Downtown Albuquerque and the University of New Mexico.

The site is anchored by the Lobo Rainforest Building, a six-story mixed-use facility with more than 100,000 square feet of space. The entire complex is designed to bring together entrepreneurs and their emerging businesses and spark interactions that are catalytic.

The evolving landscape of entrepreneurship is, like New Mexico itself, breathtaking, and there are recent major developments unfolding.

First, the state of New Mexico has expanded its commitment to entrepreneurs. In September, its Economic Development Department announced that, with support from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and the Legislature, it would provide additional support to entrepreneurs by, among other things, creating an Office of Entrepreneurship to serve as the department’s point of contact for New Mexico entrepreneurs.

The creation of a state Office of Entrepreneurship is a best practice advocated by Right to Start, the national nonprofit organization championing entrepreneurship as a civic priority. By taking that action, New Mexico is now in a position of national leadership in that regard.

Second, two new funds are expanding opportunities for entrepreneurs.

New Mexico’s Technology Enhancement Fund is a multi-million initiative to provide New Mexico’s research institutions with the opportunity to compete with other states for research funding and expand inter-institutional collaboration throughout the state.

Then there’s the new UNM Health Sciences & Main Campus Research Collaboration Seed Grant to further support research collaborations at UNM. Administered by UNM Rainforest Innovations, the grant is intended to encourage investigators from the University of New Mexico main campus and Health Sciences to work together on advancing research that may lead to new invention disclosures.

In December 2023, Roadrunner Venture Studios opened in Albuquerque, backed by America’s Frontier Fund and the New Mexico State Investment Council. Roadrunner works to commercialize American science and technology, especially ideas coming out of New Mexico’s world-class national labs and innovation ecosystem.

Third, entrepreneurial businesses and initiatives continue to grow in and around InnovateABQ. They include incubators and related facilities. That’s in addition to other entities located in the Lobo Rainforest building, including the Cecchi VentureLab — UNMRI’s incubator, Sandia National Laboratories’ Center for Collaboration and Commercialization — C3, tech engagement office, offices of global engineering firm General Atomics, and Indigenous-led consulting firm Roanhorse Consulting LLC.

Fourth, initiatives are underway to smooth the way for entrepreneurs. Through a partnership with Right to Start, UNMRI is working to identify barriers and explore ways of removing them. With support from the U.S. Economic Development Administration, UNMRI has started the New Mexico Tribal Entrepreneurship Enhancement Program, which seeks to create broader opportunity, wealth and job growth through enhancing entrepreneurship in tribal communities throughout New Mexico, especially those affected by coal mine closures.

The entrepreneurial ecosystem in Albuquerque and New Mexico is extraordinarily dynamic and growing in multiple dimensions rapidly. That’s promising news for everyone in the city and state.

Lisa Kuuttila is CEO and chief economic development officer of UNM Rainforest Innovations, the University of New Mexico’s technology transfer and economic development organization.

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