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Aperture Center targeted for tech incubation

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UNM wants to acquire Aperture Center at Mesa del Sol to house a technology-transfer center and an incubation space. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

UNM wants to acquire Aperture Center at Mesa del Sol to house a technology-transfer center and an incubation space. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

The Aperture Center at Mesa del Sol may become command central for technology transfer efforts by New Mexico’s research universities and national labs.

That’s the vision touted by leaders at the University of New Mexico, who want to acquire the 78,000-square-foot building for $4.5 million.

The purchase still must be approved by the Board of Regents. But UNM President Bob Frank said the acquisition would allow the university to immediately move forward on its Innovate ABQ initiative, which aims to create high-tech research and business development hubs in Albuquerque, and possibly elsewhere.

Although Innovate ABQ will eventually be headquartered at a seven-acre site Downtown, that location could take up to two years to develop, so UNM wants to begin by setting up shop at Mesa del Sol.

“We can stage the project’s growth by immediately taking on the Aperture Center and making it profitable pretty quickly without taking away from what we do Downtown,” Frank said. “We see development of both locations as inter-locking steps that complement one another. They’re both part of our goal to build in Albuquerque a mecca for innovation and creativity that offers more opportunities for technology-based economic growth.”

The Aperture Center would provide an umbrella location where the state’s research universities and national laboratories could co-locate their technology-transfer offices, said Lisa Kuuttila, UNM chief economic development officer and CEO of the Science and Technology Corp.

The center would serve as both a one-stop shop for investors and entrepreneurs to acquire rights to new technologies being developed statewide, and as an incubation space to launch startups that take inventions to market.

“It’s all about the community working together to create a comprehensive ecosystem for technology transfer and development,” Kuuttila said.

If the acquisition goes forward, the STC hopes to move in February from its current location at UNM’s Science and Technology Park south of campus. That site is now filled to the brim with startup companies and university-related research programs, Kuuttila said.

In contrast, about two-thirds of the three-story Aperture building is unfinished space that can be built out. The entire 33,000-square-foot second floor is now vacant. Only half of the 27,000 feet on the third floor has been built out. And, on the roughly 18,000-square-foot ground floor, only a small café and an exercise room are now operating.

The STC would immediately move into the third floor, where both UNM and Sandia National Laboratories already have offices and research staff connected with a $22 million renewable energy “micro grid” built by Japanese companies. The micro grid, which the Japanese are donating to UNM next year, includes solar, fuel cell and natural gas systems, plus back-up battery storage and a command and control center to power the entire building.

As a result, energy will be a central focus of on-site research and technology development, Kuuttila said.

The second floor also includes an 8,000-square-foot area that STC wants to make an open “co-working space” for students, entrepreneurs and community organizations to develop business projects.

“We want to promote more student entrepreneurship,” Kuuttila said. “We can provide free space here, mentorship and possibly funding to help them get businesses off the ground.”

Part of the second floor is also equipped with plumbing for a commercial kitchen. It could either be built out for that, or converted into a wet lab for technology companies, Kuuttila said.

It isn’t clear if UNM would build out unfinished areas, or pursue a “rent-as-is” model, Frank said.

But he called the center’s $4.5 million cost a “fire sale price,” since it originally cost more than $14 million to construct the building.

UNM is already a partial owner of the building, since it has a 14 percent investment stake in Mesa del Sol. In addition, the university’s Interdisciplinary Film and Digital Media program now occupies a 27,000-square-foot annex on the east side of the building, which is connected to the Aperture Center by a skywalk.

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