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Innovate ABQ groundbreaking highlights student entrepreneurship

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Recent ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — University of New Mexico graduate Harry Pappas, left, talks with David Whitten, associate director of UNM’s Center for Biomedical Engineering, at a groundbreaking ceremony Tuesday for Innovate ABQ at Central and Broadway. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

University of New Mexico nanoscience and microsystems engineer Harry Pappas believes an anti-microbial cleaning wipe he helped develop at UNM will allow hospitals and medical clinics to kill bacteria in a single swipe.

Pappas, who graduated from UNM this year, is working to market the product through his recently formed company, BioSafe Technologies LLC. The startup already has financial backing from the Nevada-based venture investment firm Sunbelt Technologies Management LLC, allowing it to license the technology from UNM, seek U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approval to sell its anti-microbial wipes and begin marketing efforts in the medical industry.

Pappas personifies the type of young, aspiring student-turned-entrepreneur that UNM is seeking to inspire, train and assist through Innovate ABQ, the high-tech research and development hub the university is building at Central and Broadway Downtown with the city, the county and private partners.

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To highlight those goals, Innovate ABQ invited Pappas to speak at the groundbreaking Tuesday morning for the project’s first building — a six-story, 160,000-square-foot facility that will open in August 2017. The ground floor will house commercialization programs for emerging technology from UNM and the state’s other research universities and national labs, UNM’s educational Innovation Academy for student entrepreneurs, and up to 310 students in two-bedroom apartments on the building’s five upper floors.

“Innovate ABQ will allow students and researchers to surround themselves with others who have similar goals in entrepreneurship and innovation,” Pappas told about 75 people who gathered for the groundbreaking. “They need lots of skill sets, such as communications, team work, problem solving and critical thinking. They can learn those things from the new opportunities offered through Innovate ABQ and the Innovation Academy.”

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People gather behind the old Baptist Church as city, county, private and university leaders speak about the new building at the planned Innovate ABQ research and development hub at Central and Broadway Downtown. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

UNM President Robert Frank said Innovate ABQ will provide a place where students and researchers can come together with entrepreneurs and business professionals to gain the skills and access the resources they need to launch and grow new businesses like BioSafe.

“These startups, these seedlings, I think will grow into full-scale businesses here,” Frank said at the event.

Local, state and private sector leaders attended the groundbreaking, which kicked off the first new construction at the old Baptist Church property, a seven-acre site  UNM acquired in 2014 with funding from its public and private partners.

Mayor Richard Berry called the groundbreaking a “new day” for economic development based on the public and private sectors working together.

“It’s the wave of the future,” Berry said. “… (We’re) taking risks on behalf of the next generation of leaders.”

Pappas said such efforts are critical for young people like him to pursue entrepreneurship.

Pappas is now president and CEO of BioSafe, which is using technology developed by David Whitten, associate director of UNM’s Center for Biomedical Engineering, in cooperation with University of Florida chemist Kirk Schanze. They developed a synthetic compound that attaches to bacteria and, when hit by light, emits an element that kills bacteria and most other pathogens.

Pappas worked to imbed that compound in an anti-bacterial cleaning wipe.

“Young people like Harry Pappas are key to commercializing technology like this,” Whitten said. “He‘s now gained far more business knowledge than I have to take this to market.”


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