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ABQid’s startup grads focus on health, wellness

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — After graduating last month from the ABQid business accelerator, six new companies focused on health and wellness issues have hit the streets to fully develop and market novel technologies.

Only two of them were launched by people in New Mexico. ABQid recruited the rest from other states, and one from Egypt. Of those, three are now pursuing their businesses here.

That out-of-state recruitment, combined with the accelerator’s new “themed” approach to focus on companies working in just one industry, successfully propelled the program in a new strategic direction that can both intensify the accelerator’s impact on startup development while also bringing new businesses to the state, said ABQid Executive Director T.J. Cook.

The accelerator, which launched in 2014, had previously accepted a broad mix of companies working in a range of industries, nearly all of them from New Mexico.

“Our new themed, focused approach helped us connect the companies in this cohort much faster and with a lot more mentors, potential partners and customers compared with our previous cohorts,” Cook said. “In addition, our ability to attract startups from other places to locate in New Mexico is a boon for the local ecosystem.”

All the companies are bringing innovative, novel technologies and services to market that can help solve pressing health-related problems and issues.

“They all have strong social missions, such as dealing with the opioid addiction crisis, sexual assault and autism in children,” Cook said. “They’re applying real solutions to real-world problems.”

One entrepreneur, Mohamed Khashaba, relocated from Egypt to Albuquerque to participate in ABQid and establish his business, TakeStep LLC, in New Mexico as a beachhead for penetration into the U.S. market. Khashaba worked with three business partners in Egypt to create a web-based software platform and mobile app that connects recovering drug addicts online with everybody that’s involved in their treatment, including family, treatment facilities, therapists, insurance companies and more.

“It empowers recovering addicts and all stakeholders by linking everyone together in a single web-based and mobile platform,” Khashaba said.

TakeStep wants to turn its platform into the world’s first virtual-treatment system for addiction.

“It offers treatment facilities a new tool to reach more patients in distant places, such as rural areas,” Khashaba said. “It can also directly connect therapists individually with people, providing virtual-recovery services.”

Two facilities in Egypt are already using TakeStep with about 400 recovering addicts. Pilot projects will begin in December with a New Mexico facility and a local doctor.

“New Mexico is a big market for us, because it’s one of the top three states in the U.S. for drug addiction,” Khashaba said. “We’ll remain headquartered here to serve the local market, and to demonstrate our platform for other states.”

Another entrepreneur, Marsha Battee, relocated from Washington, D.C., to Albuquerque last summer to join ABQid and build her company, SANEsuite, here. Battee created a software platform for forensic nursing programs to standardize the reporting and charting process on victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse.

Today, some 800 programs in the U.S. and Canada use individual systems to collect different types of information.

“Nothing is standardized, and that’s a problem for addressing patients’ needs and getting legal justice,” Battee said. “With standardized charting software, everybody could get on the same page to collect the same data. That could make a big difference in patient outcomes.”

Through the ABQid program, Battee changed her marketing strategy to focus directly on helping potential abuse victims before selling her platform to forensic nursing programs. She’s now broadening SANEsuite into a web-backed app that human resource departments, professionals and other organizations could use as a reporting tool for employees to document sexual harassment in the workplace. It could also be used at universities as an anonymous reporting tool for students.

Apart from out-of-state recruits, the ABQid cohort included some homegrown innovation.

This device, created by The Egg Project, changes color, vibrates and warms up when held, helping to calm children with autism. (Courtesy of The Egg Project)

The Albuquerque-based Egg Project, for example, has developed an egg-shaped device to help de-escalate autistic episodes among children. Company founder and CEO Ralph Peña, a former tech coordinator for Albuquerque Public Schools, originally built it as a toy for autistic children that changes color, vibrates and warms up when held.

Teachers said it helps calm autistic children experiencing episodes by providing outside stimuli to bring them back into focus, so Peña worked to build it into a marketable product.

Albuquerque’s Team Accelerator, a hardware development assistance program, helped Peña build a potentially marketable prototype during the ABQid program that could be sold directly to parents of autistic children. Peña is now filing a provisional patent, and he plans an IndiGoGo crowd funding campaign for later this month.

Managers of ABQid’s venture fund are now considering investments in the new companies. To date, the fund has pumped about $1.3 million into 30 startups. That, in turn, has helped attract another $2.7 million for those companies from other funding sources.

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