Surprising startups in a Southwestern state, many based on work done in or for government laboratories
New Mexico, sandwiched between Texas and Arizona on the Mexican border, is the fifth largest state by size, but the sixth-least densely populated. Yet the U.S. Census Bureau identified New Mexico as the fourth-most active state for startups in the country in the fall of 2015. What drives innovation in the Land of Enchantment?
Could be the influence of government research dating back to World War II at Los Alamos National Laboratory, where the atomic bomb was created. Could be the energy from nearly 30,000 students at the University of New Mexico. Could be thanks to the 12 week intensive high-growth startup program run by the ABQid Accelerator in Albuquerque. Through 2015, 484 small firms in New Mexico received nearly $637 million in small startup grants and investments from a variety of sources.
The combination of all these factors have made New Mexico host to a surprising number in interesting startups receiving national and international attention. Here are 10 tech startups lighting up New Mexico so brightly you need to keep your sunglasses on when you’re in the office.
1. Exagen Diagnostics
When the body turns on itself, advanced medical support is critical but difficult. Helping with their next-generation clinical tools for diagnosis of autoimmune connective tissue diseases, such as Rheumatoid Arthritis and Lupus, Exagen Diagnostics has a suit of AVISE tests available to doctors and hospitals.
The start date of January 2004 makes Exagen sound like an unlikely startup candidate, but their largest funding rounds, $34.1 million followed by two placements of $25 million, came in February 2012, then October and November of 2013. Total investment of $177.73 million from a variety of health-focused VC firms attest to the need for this work and the good job Exagen has been doing.
2. Skorpios Technologies
It’s a connected world, and more Internet usage means we demand more speed and more bandwidth. Skorpios Technologies delivers integrated communications products, next generation fiber optic tools, that speed data, voice, and video around the Web in a nanosecond, or at least as fast as possible.
An investment total of $69.9 million started funding product development back in August of 2010, and continued success meant $25 million invested in February of 2015. Their research has taken a modular approach and they now have a line of “macrocell” building blocks like modulators, detectors, lasers, and more stacked together to form Customer Specific Standard Products, reducing development expense.
3. IntelliCyt Corporation
Cells power the body, and IntelliCyt Corporation helps power medical research and development on cells. If your company uses cells for screening, IntelliCyt can problaby help you. They make instrumentation, software, and reagents for screening, tracking the best cancer cell killers, and other immune-oncology work for use by those in the life sciences.
Arboretum Ventures kicked them off with $8 million in May of 2013, followed by $4 million in debt financing in the summer of 2014, and a total of two venture rounds in 2015 totaling $12.84 million. One of the four investors in the last round in October 2015 was again Arboretum Ventures, following their investment in cell-based screening up the ladder.
4. SolAero Technologies
Solar cells are high tech, so solar cells powering spacecraft are super high tech. That’s the sweet spot for SolAero Technologies, and so far they have powered almost 300 satellites and are working on a thousand more for launch in the next few years. And, for the earthbound, they have terrestrial solar cells, too, balanced by their special deep space solar cell line.
There’s no listing for investor rounds, but there are bootstrapping news items like a $22 million contract from the India space agency to power a group of their satellites. Add in their line of wing-mountable solar cells for drones, and the future looks bright (and powerful) for SolAreo.
5. Descartes Labs
Starting as a group of scientists working for Los Alamos National Laboratory, the astrophysicists and cosmologist founders of Descartes Labs teaches artificially-intelligent computers to help humans identify objects on the ground. One click in their product triggers high performance access to calibrated satellite imagery on a massive scale across the globe.
Thanks to seven years of supported incubation by Los Alamos, support by government research grants, Descartes raised $3.3 million and spun out to become a separate company in May of 2015. They received another $5 million in November, 2015, and can now handle the flood of visual information from sensors around the world, from satellites to cell phones, and identify everything captured.
6. Vibrant Corporation
Before you fly, airlines need to verify the parts of the plane are still structurally sound without doing damage during the tests. Enter PCRT, or Process Compensated Resonance Testing, using tools advanced by companies like Vibrant Technology in Albuquerque. They’re also big in power generation equipment testing to help keep the electrical grid going. 150,000,000 parts per year are tested by PCRT, and Vibrant now has an office in Germany to handle European customers.
Vibrant licensed PCRT technology from the developer, Quatro Corporation, in 2006. To fuel expansion, Vibrant solicited a seed round of $1.5 million in March, 2013, and did $750k of debt financing in October, 2014.
Altus, the main product of innoBright, is a “rendering denoiser plugin.” While a denoiser sounds useful in a daycare center, it really shines when cleaning up image quality for all types of visual effects, including games, CAD/CAM, and architecture. While a rendering farm sounds vaguely vegetarian, it’s really a giant pile of expensive servers that turn computer code into visual reality. Eliminating noise in the images takes enormous amounts of expensive CPU time, so less noise means more images faster.
Founder Raghu Kopalle started innoBright in early 2015 with $270,000 worth of seed money and help from the ABQid incubator and one at the University of New Mexico. AOL founder Steve Case helped with the funding, so computer royalty has blessed innoBright and their Altus product.
8. LotusLeaf Coatings
Standing on the shoulders of research done by Sandia National Laboratories and the University of New Mexico, LotusLeaf Coatings works at the nanoparticle level to manage water on surfaces. They offer both hydrophilic (distributes water evenly for sheeting and cleanability) and hydrophobic (repels water for resistance against stains and dampness).
Starting in 2009, LotusLeaf grabbed $600,000 from Right Side Capital Management in 2012. Their HydraPhil (attraction and sheeting) and HydrFoe (repellency) coatings are making a splash in manufacturing.
More people packed more closely means more diseases, especially in developing countries. Peptineo uses a multi-disciplinary approach combining systems biology, physics, molecular biology, pharmacology, and protein engineering to attack disease on a nanoparticle level using engineered peptides.
Founded in 2011 and funded primarily by CEO Sheldon Jordan and VP of Human Capital Kimberley Beauford, along with support from four different incubators, Peptineo also received a grant during the Ebola worldwide outbreak scare in 2014 to help develop a vaccine. In medicine, big results often come from small, dedicated teams like Peptineo.
10. Pajarito Powder
Portable power divorced from fossil fuels drives as much innovation as venture capital groups can manage today. We all know about the lithium-ion batteries powering smartphones, including the problems with heat that turns into news headlines. That’s why Pajarito Powder developed and manufactures advanced precious-metal-free catalysts for fuel cell catalyst systems. Big advantage? Avoiding precious metals lowers both the cost and environmental impact.
Products for sale include NPC-2000, a drop-in fuel cell catalyst, several variations, and custom catalyst design and manufacturing services. If your future car has a fuel cell, it might be thanks to Pajarito Powder and unlisted funding amounts from Omphalos Venture Partners LLC and the Verge Fund.