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NewSpace New Mexico is launching a new business incubator to help ignite the commercial engines of space companies that need some extra thrust to achieve market success.
The “NewSpace Ignitor” is a first-of-its-kind incubator for established space-related firms that need more direct industry connections, mentoring and access to resources to prototype and test new technology, allowing them to attract customers, win contracts and secure financing to build their businesses into sustainable enterprises, said NewSpace NM CEO Casey DeRaad.
Both NewSpace NM and the Air Force Research Laboratory at Kirtland Air Force Base are working together on the program to create a bridge for budding companies to transverse the infamous “valley of death,” where new, promising businesses surpass the initial startup phase of growth only to crash and burn as they attempt to penetrate markets and scale operations.
“It’s for small and medium-sized companies that need resources to move beyond research and development to overcome barriers to market entry,” DeRaad told the Journal. “… We’re targeting companies at the precipice of the valley of death to help them get across. We’ll help them advance from business concept to actual product and then help them scale up with direct customer connections to generate the income they need to move forward.”
Ignitor will be housed at the Unite & Ignite Launchpad, an 8,700-square-foot innovation hub and co-working space that NewSpace and the AFRL opened last year near the Albuquerque International Sunport. That facility offers collaborative work spaces, offices, conference rooms and high-tech equipment for small satellite manufacturing, and for building, testing and evaluating space technology components and products.
A five-year, $11 million AFRL contract awarded to NewSpace last year provides the financing for Unite & Ignite, and for the new Ignitor incubator, which is free for participants.
Ignitor is the latest AFRL-backed endeavor to support the emerging commercial space industry. In 2018, AFRL launched the annual Hyperspace Challenge in partnership with the ABQid business accelerator run by CNM Ingenuity for companies to learn about government needs and explore ways to align their technology development with those missions.
And last year, AFRL contracted the New Mexico Trade Alliance to manage a new, 9,000-square-foot co-working space in Nob Hill called “Q Station,” which is now completing its first business accelerator for six space-related startup companies. A second accelerator cohort will launch in January.
Four of the current cohort’s participants now plan to establish independent business offices in New Mexico, said Randy Trask, Trade Alliance president and Q Station executive director.
“Q Station is bustling with activity,” Trask told the Journal. “We have around 30-40 people coming through the co-working space every day.”
But unlike Q Station – which specifically concentrates on startups – the new Ignitor program aims to accelerate growth and sustainability for existing companies, said AFRL Space Force Accelerator Program Director Gabe Mounce.
“Ignitor provides the next step in the ecosystem to help companies mature their technology and build their business operations,” Mounce told the Journal.
NewSpace will choose 10 companies for Ignitor participation based on applications submitted in August, DeRaad said. It will then select four of those for the first incubator cohort.
There is no set curriculum. Services and resources will be tailored to individual company needs.
“We’ll develop a navigation plan for each company with a menu of services, from testing new technology to building business pitches and showcasing their products to potential customers,” DeRaad said.
NewSpace – which launched in 2018 to unite space-related companies and organizations in a joint effort to advance New Mexico’s commercial space industry – will draw on its 189-member network to help provide services and resources for Ignitor participants. As participants graduate from the program, more firms will be brought in to continuously serve companies, DeRaad said.
Defense agencies and the private sector mutually benefit from AFRL’s accelerator programs, which encourage new technology development needed by government while also building the commercial space industry, Mounce said.