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Creative Startups continues global expansion

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Creative Startups graduate Mezel Mods in Rio Rancho makes decorative accessories and figures like this one that it sell to pinball machine collectors and arcade owners worldwide. (Photo courtesy of Mezel Mods)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — New Mexico pinball wizards Tim and Kristin Mezel are helping turn pinball machines across the globe into bright, colorful works of art.

The couple, who founded Rio Rancho-based Mezel Mods in 2013, use 3-D printers to make decorative accessories for pinball machines that they ship to collectors and arcade owners around the world who want to spice up their games with brightly-lit toys and figurative molds generally unavailable anywhere else.

The company, called Mezel Mods, is one of 41 businesses to graduate from the Albuquerque-based Creative Startups business accelerator since 2014, and many are now actively building their operations in New Mexico and elsewhere.

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Some, like Mezel Mods, report significant success.

“We’re selling accessories all over the world to pinball collectors who want to upgrade their games to make them look better, more attractive and more exciting,” said Kristin Browning-Mezel. “We’re shipping more than 200 accessory orders per month now, and we have a re-seller in Germany partnering with us.”

Like Mezel Mods, a lot more creative startups could soon be building businesses here and elsewhere, thanks to aggressive expansion by Creative Startups in New Mexico and in other states and countries.

The accelerator is simultaneously recruiting for four different programs scheduled for this summer and fall. That includes a new cohort in Albuquerque, another one in North Carolina where an affiliate began using the Creative Startups’ curriculum last year, and a first-ever cohort in Kuwait that will begin in November.

Creative Startups is also recruiting students for a new, credit-earning boot camp, the Lobo Lab, that will launch in August in partnership with the University of New Mexico’s Innovation Academy. About a dozen students have already signed up, said Innovation Academy director Robert DelCampo.

“It’s a super-intensive course that’s a cross between a boot camp and an accelerator program,” DelCampo said. “Students will take new startup ideas and actually stand them up as businesses by the end of the semester. Potentially viable startups will come out of it.”

Creative Startups is also in advanced stages of program development in Portugal and Malaysia.

The accelerator’s rapid expansion contrasts with similar programs elsewhere, many of which are struggling because of market saturation, said program co-founder Alice Loy. The accelerators that continue to thrive are generally more focused on specific industries, rather than grouping all types of startups into a single program.

“There are too many accelerators now that are just too much the same, so the model is shifting more to focus on specific industries,” Loy said. “Creative Startups has

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always been based on a strategic focus on the creative industries, and that has helped us weather the market contraction.”

Meanwhile, some Creative Startup graduates  are opening brick-and-mortar locations in New Mexico. The most successful to date is Meow Wolf, which is thriving with its interactive art exhibit in Santa Fe.

Native Realities, which graduated from Creative Startups last year, opened its first store in Downtown Albuquerque this month to sell Native America-focused comic books, novels and toys. And Mezel Mods launched a new arcade business, 505 Pinball, in Rio Rancho in February that it now rents out for parties and other events.

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