New Mexico’s startup economy is thriving, thanks in good part to a spate of fresh bioscience companies that are working to turn innovative technologies into new products and services.
In fact, the bioscience sector has dominated the startup landscape in recent years, with more patents issued to New Mexico innovators in that sector over the past decade than any other local industry, according to the national business research company D&B Hoovers.
Nearly 150 local bioscience startups formed just in the past 10 years, Hoovers recently reported, with operations scattered around the state. That includes a broad array of health-related products and services, as well as new biotechnology to improve agricultural production and protect the environment.
Continuous innovation and discovery at the state’s research universities and national labs has created a steady pipeline of emerging technologies that creative entrepreneurs and venture investors are working to take to market. The University of New Mexico, in particular, has become a hotbed for health-related startups working to commercialize new medical devices, diagnostic tools and therapeutics.
Both the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology in Socorro and New Mexico State University in Las Cruces are also spinning out many bioscience startups based on their research and engineering specialties. NMSU, for example, is emerging as a center of excellence for agricultural-related biotechnology.
Research and development at UNM health sciences, combined with the university’s Center for Biomedical Engineering, inspired the launch of 39 health-related startups over the 10-year period from fiscal year 2013 to FY 2022, said Lisa Kuuttila, UNM chief economic development officer and head of Rainforest Innovations, which manages the university’s technology transfer operations.
That represents about 44% of the total 89 startup companies that launched with UNM technology over the past decade. And in recent years, that ratio has increased, with new bioscience ventures accounting for 17 of 29 companies, or 58%, that formed with UNM innovation over the four-year period from FY 2019-FY 2022.
“More and more companies are being developed,” Kuuttila told the Journal. “The bioscience industry is becoming a really major sector for our state … Many startups are still small scale at the early stages, but we now have a broad array of companies that we didn’t have just 10 years ago.”
Some of the recently formed bioscience startups around the state include:
• BennuBio, an Albuquerque company that’s marketing superfast cytometers, or cell meters, for medical diagnostics
• WaveFront Dynamics, or WaveDyn, which built a specialized eye-measurement machine to help customize sight correction for difficult-to-treat patients
• Nature’s Toolbox, or NTxBio, which created technology to rapidly make new vaccines and drugs based on processes originally licensed from Los Alamos National Laboratory
• BioFlyte Inc., which is marketing proprietary technology to detect airborne biological threats
• Los Alamos-based Innate Immunity, which is marketing a new protein originally developed at LANL that strengthens the immune system in plants to protect crops against disease
• Circular Genomics, which is commercializing UNM technology to diagnose depression and other neurological disorders
• Armonica Technologies, which is developing another UNM innovation for rapid genomic sequencing
• MNT SmartSolutions, which is building a remote-controlled, magnetic toothpaste and toothbrush that injects anti-bacterial solutions into the nooks and crannies of gums and teeth
In the startup world, many new companies with promising technology often fail in the early stages, or never gain needed traction in the market.
But many of New Mexico’s startups are steadily advancing in technology development and market penetration, boosted by the state’s vibrant startup ecosystem, which offers robust business development services and, often, access to capital, said Stuart Rose, founder of the BioScience Center in Uptown Albuquerque.
“We still have many early-stage companies, but today we also have a lot more advanced startups that have established themselves,” Rose told the Journal. “They’re not yet mature companies, but many are well-positioned for breakout growth over time.”
Some companies have already achieved breakout growth. Two homegrown firms, for example, were recently acquired by large, deep-pocketed corporations that can now accelerate their market penetration.
Publicly traded Cadence Design Systems paid $500 million this summer to acquire OpenEye Scientific, a Santa Fe-based molecular design and modeling software company. And data analytics company Health Catalyst paid nearly $105 million in summer 2021 to acquire Twistle, an Albuquerque-based company that built a patient-engagement system to link healthcare teams directly with patients through automated communication.
New Mexico’s bioscience industry success is generating national attention, which could attract more companies and investors to the state going forward.
“We’re starting to get noticed,” Kuuttila said. “We’ve worked very hard to make that happen. I’m really bullish on the prospects.”