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State invests $3 million in new venture fund

SANTA FE, N.M. — A new venture fund is scouting for local health science startups to invest in, backed by $3 million from the state Catalyst Fund.

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Mara Aspinall, BlueStone Venture Partners co-founder and managing director. (COURTESY OF BLUESTONE VENTURE PARTNERS)

BlueStone Venture Partners LLC, with offices in Tucson and Santa Fe, must match the state commitment with $3 million from private investors, making at least $6 million available for emerging early-stage companies based in New Mexico.

This is the sixth state investment in local venture funds since last year, when the State Investment Council launched the $20 million Catalyst Fund to boost venture activity in New Mexico. To date, Santa Fe-based Sun Mountain Capital, which manages the Catalyst Fund, has approved about $13 million for venture funds that commit capital to local startups to prove their technologies and move to market.

“Investing in homegrown New Mexico companies and entrepreneurs strengthens and diversifies our economy,” said Gov. Susana Martinez in a statement Thursday announcing the BlueStone commitment. “The Catalyst Fund helps our local companies get off the ground and succeed, creating new jobs and opportunities for New Mexicans.”

BlueStone is raising its first $50 million to $75 million fund to invest in life science startups in the Southwest. That includes New Mexico, Arizona, Texas and Oklahoma, which BlueStone co-founder and managing director Mara Aspinall calls the “NATO” states.

“There are tremendous entrepreneurs developing new, promising technologies in the Southwest, but to a large extent, this area has been ignored by larger venture funds,” Aspinall said. “We believe there are strong technologies and opportunities in the NATO states, and that will be our primary focus.”

The fund will concentrate on medical devices and diagnostics, biopharma technologies and healthcare information technology.

“New Mexico has great research universities, national laboratories and hospital systems that have shown a real propensity to be creative,” Aspinall said. “That gets us very excited to be part of the local ecosystem.”

Aspinall is a veteran healthcare industry executive with leadership roles in national companies. She served as past president and CEO of Ventana Medical Systems, a billion dollar division of the global Roche Group, which focuses on developing and marketing cancer diagnostics and digital imaging.

Tom Nickoloff, a serial entrepreneur and long-time investor in New Mexico, will head BlueStone’s local office in Santa Fe.

Following the new commitment to BlueStone, the Catalyst Fund has enough money available to invest in two more venture funds, said Sun Mountain managing partner Brian Birk. Most of the funds that already won Catalyst commitments are still raising private equity, but they’ve begun investing in local startups.

“Many are just wrapping up on raising their matching funds,” Birk said. “As that winds down, we expect to see the pace of startup investments accelerate over the next 12 to 18 months.”

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