Rise of the Rest pulls into Albuquerque

From left, Sen. Tom Udall, D-NM, and Steve Case listen to Barr Halevi, chief technology officer at Pajarito Powder, during a tour of the company’s production facility. Case was in Albuquerque for the Rise of the Rest bus tour. (Kevin Robinson-Avila/For the Albuquerque Journal)

Albuquerque startup InnoBright Technologies swept the Rise of the Rest startup pitch competition Thursday night at the KiMo Theatre Downtown, winning a $100,000 investment from Steve Case’s Revolution Growth investment firm.

InnoBright, which is marketing University of New Mexico technology to speed up and improve the rendering process for video animation, competed against seven other homegrown Albuquerque firms with a range of new products and services.

The five-member panel of judges, which included Case and Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry, chose InnoBright for its compelling technology and market potential, but Case said all the pitch participants are winners.

“There were eight great companies and eight great entrepreneurs who showed the real diversity of ideas being tackled in Albuquerque,” Case said. “All eight are terrific and deserve your support.”

The competition marked the culmination of the Rise of the Rest’s daylong Duke City bus tour, which Revolution Growth organized to shine a public spotlight on the vibrant startup ecosystems that are emerging here and in other cities. Apart from Albuquerque, the tour visited three other cities since Monday – Omaha/Lincoln, Neb., Denver and Salt Lake City, with a final stop in Phoenix today.

It’s the fifth such Rise of the Rest bus tour since the road trips began in 2014. National investors and entrepreneurs from prominent organizations such as Google for Entrepreneurs, Salesforce for Startups and Village Capital are also participating.

It’s aimed at generating more attention and potentially investment for cities in the U.S. heartland that often struggle to attract interest compared with high-tech hubs on the east and west coasts. The tour-bus delegation met with dozens of local entrepreneurs, business professionals, city officials and lab and university representatives Thursday morning at a breakfast at Los Poblanos Historic Inn & Organic Farm.

“More than 75 percent of investment capital now goes to places like New York, Massachusetts and California,” Case told the breakfast participants. “We want to make sure everybody with a great idea, no matter where they are, has a shot at a level playing field. We want to make more people aware of what’s happening right here in Albuquerque, and get more investors on planes and writing checks to companies here.”

The tour delegation met with local startups in and around Albuquerque on Thursday. That included visits to Ideum, a Corrales-based company that makes multi-touch computer tables and screens for interactive displays, and Pajarito Powder, which licensed technology from national labs and universities to develop low-cost catalyst materials for hydrogen fuel cells.

The delegation also toured the Bioscience Center in Uptown and the Fatpipe business incubator Downtown, before heading to the KiMo Theatre for a public “fireside chat” with Case, followed by the startup pitch competition.

Revolution chose Albuquerque from about 80 places that applied for a visit by the bus tour, said Anna Mason, Rise of the Rest investment director.

“Albuquerque really put itself on the map to tell us how important it was for us to come here,” Mason said.

It shows Albuquerque’s startup ecosystem is gaining real traction and drawing national attention, Mayor Berry said.

“We’re thrilled to have somebody of Steve Case’s caliber here,” he said.

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