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Arrowhead’s big year is good news for entrepreneurs

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — New Mexico State University’s Arrowhead Center Inc. immensely ramped up its support services for existing and aspiring entrepreneurs this year.

The center, which manages NMSU’s technology transfer and commercialization programs, launched four new-business accelerators, while extending program availability to urban and rural areas around the state.

“Everything we do is aimed at enhancing and increasing innovation and entrepreneurship,” said Arrowhead Director Kathryn Hansen. “We’re working to build a risk-taking culture in New Mexico.”

The center has had a particularly huge impact on the startup ecosystem in southern New Mexico since 2011, when Arrowhead received a $2 million i6 Challenge grant from the U.S. Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration. It used that funding to expand its core incubator, called the Launch Proof of Concept Program, which helps companies take NMSU technology to market. It also launched a new incubator, Studio G, to train and assist students and others who want to take the entrepreneurial plunge with their own innovation and ideas.

The center added more support services, including a broad “innovation network” with about 145 industry experts, investors, entrepreneurs and business professionals to offer individualized, ongoing assistance to Arrowhead participants.

A $300,000 National Science Foundation award last year also allowed Arrowhead to become an official NSF Innovation Corps Program site. That enabled NMSU to provide grants of up to $2,000 each for 30 startups per year to participate in a five-week business accelerator training and mentoring program, after which graduates become eligible to apply for $50,000 NSF iCorps grants.

Arrowhead received a $369,000 EDA award as well last year to extend Studio G, Launch and other services to Dona Ana Community College and to NMSU’s branch campuses in Alamogordo, Carlsbad and Grants.

And this year, Arrowhead leveraged existing funding with a $200,000 donation from the New Mexico Gas Co. to launch four new business accelerators, or “sprints,” for entrepreneurs throughout New Mexico and beyond. That includes two five-month accelerators – one focused on agricultural technologies and the other on digital health innovations – plus two five-week programs targeting startups with all types of new technologies and businesses looking to export their products and services.

Arrowhead will soon select 10 companies for its newest accelerator, the “digital health sprint,” scheduled to begin in January.

“We created a family of startup programs that we didn’t have before,” Hansen said. “They’re statewide programs for any new venture or New Mexico business to apply and participate. The purpose is to create new companies and jobs by improving the readiness of startups to succeed and increasing the availability of funding and support.”

To date, not including the health sprint, the new accelerators have assisted 31 businesses, each of which received a $2,000 stipend. More than a third of New Mexico companies participating in the sprints came from rural areas, Hansen said.

Now, Arrowhead is strengthening and extending its programs even more, thanks to $4 million in new private grants. That includes $2.5 million from the El Paso-based Hunt Family Foundation; $1 million from serial entrepreneurs Paul and Alejandra de la Vega Foster, $350,000 from the Colorado-based Daniels Fund and a new $150,000 award from New Mexico Gas.

The Hunt and Foster grants will strengthen Arrowhead programming in general, particularly building collaborative efforts in the BorderPlex region in southern New Mexico. The center has already added some support services, such as “student startup sponsorships” that allow NMSU students to work on businesses during semesters, said Arrowhead program manager Amanda Bradford.

“So far, we’ve provided $40,000 for seven student ventures this year,” Bradford said. “Two more have also been funded for the spring semester.”

Arrowhead also recently hired a new “investor in residence” to help increase capital availability for startups, and it will recruit an “entrepreneur in residence” to provide more direct professional assistance.

Meanwhile, Arrowhead will use its EDA money and Daniels funding to expand Studio G services to six university and community college campuses outside the NMSU system.

Daniels funding is also supporting extending programs for K-12 students that provide hands-on learning with real-world projects. The “Innoventure” program benefitted nearly 1,700 students from July 2016-July 2017 at dozens of New Mexico schools, Bradford said.

NMSU has made concerted efforts to put its resources and support services online, including full training modules that entrepreneurs can pursue on their own, plus real-time distance participation in workshops, accelerators and individual meetings with Arrowhead and Innovation Network professionals.

During the past fiscal year, which ended June 30, Arrowhead helped 218 student ventures at NMSU and 45 at branch campuses, according to the center’s latest report. About $1.3 million in funding was raised for 71 startups.

Arrowhead assisted 58 businesses around the state, generating a total $125 million impact on income from all programs, including direct and indirect support for 933 new and existing jobs.

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