For the last week I´ve had the good fortune of being in New Mexico on assignment for Fortune Small Business magazine and taking some time for myself and my son to tour around a state we love to visit.
New Mexico is a state of contradictions. It is home to Los Alamos, Sandia Labs and the Santa Fe Institute* and a major university, yet it has some of the worst performing and under funded schools in the country. Poverty is rampant, while Sotheby´s real estate signs dot the landscape in even the most remote areas. Scientists work on new particle accelerators while new age vegans create aromatherapy oils. The state is rife with mountains, yet considered a desert.
Yes, the high desert is certainly thought provoking and driving Highway 25 from Albuquerque to Santa Fe, Santa Fe to Taos–visiting Bandelier National Monument, Ojo Caliente and Los Alamos´ Bradbury Museum in less than 72 hours-gives one time and material to ponder.
So much of our country´s innovation comes from our national (and, at one time corporate) laboratories and universities. Windows came from research being done at Xerox Parc, the graphical user interface from Marc Andreessen´s work as a graduate student at University of Illinois. Psychologist/computer scientist John Holland developed genetic algorithms while a professor at University of Michigan.
While Los Alamos´ primary directive now is "stockpile stewardship" or rather ensuring the safety of the nation´s aging nuclear weapons, its scientists have spun off numerous technologies over the years, as varied as a better catalytic converter for diesel engines, to developing lasers and most recently focusing on issue to do with the Human Genome project.
Between the research done at the above mentioned institutions and the rare opportunity for quality of life New Mexico has to offer, it´s curious why the state isn´t known as center for emerging growth companies. Why isn´t it an incubator for growing companies, similarly to Silicon Valley, Boston´s Route 128 or even Texas´ gem, Austin?
As it turns out, I´m not the only one contemplating this conundrum and there has been several initiatives in the past few years to bolster what start-up community the state does have. In late 2004, a group of venture capital firms banded together to form the New Mexico Venture Capital Association (NMVCA), including: The Altira Group, Blue Sage Capital, Flywheel Ventures, Fort Washington Investment Advisors, Invencor, ITU Ventures, Mesa Ventures, Murphree Venture Partners, Red River Ventures, Technology Funding, Tullis-Dickerson, Verge, Vspring Capital, and Wasatch Venture Fund.
What´s more, according to a 2005 article in Venture Capital Journal, the New Mexico State Investment Council, has invested nearly $150 million into funds which have mandates to invest in companies based in New Mexico (the list of funds receiving the money mimics the list of funds making up the NMVCA) According to its web site Sandia National Labs invests in emerging technologies that support its mission (no matter geography).
As well, there are any number of "entrepreneurs´" councils and city efforts at incubator programs. Given that New Mexico, Santa Fe aside, offers an incredibly reasonable cost of living, a plethora of outdoor and cultural activities, and space to spare, I predict (you read it here first!) that we´ll see more in the way of emerging growth companies finding their way to the "Land of Enchantment." With the high cost of real estate and diminishing quality of life in California, I have no doubt we´ll be comparing the area from Albuquerque north-not the next Silicon Valley-but certainly a western version of Research Triangle Park.
I for one, hope I´m back there to cover it!
*If you don´t know about the Santa Fe Institute, but sure to visit its web site. I´ve written for the Institute´s Bulletin off and on for the last 12 years (in the current issue I write about the work of economists and physicists, such as Blake LeBaron and Doyne Farmer, who are using agent-based computer models to look for patterns in various financial markets). I consider the articles I´ve gotten to research and write for SFI the best "life-long learning" opportunity I have. I hope to find time and space to write about the work scientists are doing at SFI in a later post.