Since January, when Michael J. Cumbo created Sandia Electro-Optics Corp. in Albuquerque, the serial entrepreneur has launched an average of one new business every two months.
- A high-tech machine shop to custom-make and repair parts and components for local businesses.
- A new life science startup to commercialize technology for superfast screening of tissue samples.
- A firm to make and market solar-powered attic fans.
- An art gallery that sells high-tech sculptures and designs.
- A new hands-on school to teach engineering to children.
It all falls under the umbrella of Sandia Electro-Optics, a privately run incubator that Cumbo set up to house and build technology-based businesses.
“It’s a place where good ideas can find a home for incubation and development,” Cumbo said. “This is what I’ve done throughout my career. Previously, I spent other people’s money as a company manager, but now I’m doing it with my own money.”
$1 million invested
Cumbo and his wife, Joyce Owings Cumbo, have invested about $1 million to date in Sandia Electro, which is primarily focused on commercializing optics-based tools and equipment for medical and environmental applications.
The company is seeking to license early-stage inventions from New Mexico universities, national laboratories and individual inventors to continue developing them into marketable products.
An optics and electrical engineer, Cumbo has managed commercialization strategies at various companies for more than 30 years, giving him the technical know-how and critical business skills to lead startups to success.
He came to Albuquerque in the fall of 2011 to head IDEX Corp.’s takeover of CVI Melles Griot, a laser- and optics-related manufacturing firm that IDEX of Illinois acquired. Cumbo left IDEX last February to form Sandia Electro.
“It’s all about taking technology from lab to fab,” Cumbo said. “I bring business management abilities to the table that inventors typically don’t have, as well as in-house capability (at Sandia Electro) to do customized prototyping, testing and developing of technology.”
Their unique services
The Cumbos acquired a small Albuquerque machine shop in April, Unique Services Inc., to gain high-tech engineering equipment needed for building new products. In addition, the purchase allowed Sandia Electro to immediately generate revenue through equipment repair and customization services for local manufacturers.
“Unique Services was founded as a go-to place to repair, modify or improve processing equipment,” Cumbo said. “We continue to do that contract work for optics-based tools and equipment for medical and environmental applications businesses around town.”
Ideally, the machining work will be divided evenly between customer contracts and internal projects, said Owings Cumbo, who works as Sandia Electro’s vice president for human resources and administration.
“We expect about half our work to be for external customers and the other half to develop our own product portfolio,” she said.
The company leased a 13,500-square-foot building at 3100 Menaul NE in June. The facility, located across from the American Square Shopping Center near the intersection of Menaul and Carlisle Boulevard, used to be a Garcia Toyota dealership.
The company is now working on its first new technology, a method to immensely increase the processing power of flow-through cytometers, or cell meters, which are used worldwide to screen tissue samples for medical diagnostics and drug development.
Sandia Electro acquired an option to license the technology last spring from the University of New Mexico, where it was developed. Cumbo formed ETA Diagnostics to take the technology forward, and he’s now working with two UNM inventors – Steven Graves and Andrew Shreve of UNM’s Chemical and Nuclear Engineering Department – to build the first cytometer prototype.
“Mike is an incredibly savvy manager who’s both good at business and understands the science,” Graves said. “That’s critical because raw scientists like me and Andy don’t have enough understanding of the business world for even the standard management of a business.”
Cumbo said he’s now looking to license two more environmental sensing technologies – a university invention for use in gas detection and a new tool for oil-field-related work that was created by an individual inventor.
In addition, over the summer, Sandia Electro acquired all the rights and equipment for a solar-powered attic fan developed by a roofing contractor in California to be more robust and durable than others on the market.
That acquisition marked the launch of a new Off-Grid Solar Products division at Sandia Electro.
“We acquired the entire product line and moved it to Albuquerque in July,” Cumbo said.
In September, the company also received franchising rights to offer Engineering for Kids programs in New Mexico. The hands-on science, technology, engineering and math curriculum was developed by a Virginia-based company to teach STEM lessons in a fun, engaging way to kids from 4 to 14 who participate in after-school classes, special camps and parties.
The Cumbos have leased a 2,200-square-foot space at the American Square Shopping Center to manage the program’s launch in Albuquerque in November.
“It’s a services learning center where we’ll offer classes, workshops and parties,” Owings Cumbo said. “In the long term, we hope to set up about half a dozen such learning centers around the state.”
Tech art gallery
Finally, on Oct. 15, Sandia Electro inaugurated its new consignment art gallery in the old auto showroom of its Menaul facility. The Right Brain Gallery features specialized art made with optics and precision metal-working technologies.
“It’s a consignment-based business to sell technology-based art,” Owings Cumbo said. “It’s a great marketing tool for us.”
Lisa Kuuttila, president and CEO of UNM’s Science and Technology Corp., said Cumbo represents the kind of entrepreneurial talent needed to build homegrown businesses that transfer new technologies from lab to market.
“About 40 percent of the startups that STC has facilitated (with UNM technology) have been launched by entrepreneurs like Mike,” Kuuttila said. “We need to attract more of that kind of management talent to the state – people with the been-there, done-that expertise and experience who aren’t afraid of taking risks.”