Lobo Rainforest News
Mark Chavez, CEO of one of New Mexico’s newest startups, wants to change the way we think about and use social media, and he’s come back to Albuquerque to develop what could be a disruptive innovation on a global scale. Read about Ellen Marks’ fascinating August 27, 2018 interview, “One-on-One with Mark Chavez,” from the Albuquerque Journal Business Outlook, reprinted below. Also see Kevin Robinson’s June 25 article, “Lens startup focuses on cloud-free online privacy,” from the Albuquerque Journal at https://stc.unm.edu/new-startup-at-the-lobo-rainforest-building-creating-next-gen-solution-to-cloud-vulnerability/.
One-on-One with Mark Chavez
By Ellen Marks / Journal Assistant Business Editor
Published: Monday, August 27th, 2018 at 12:02am
Updated: Sunday, August 26th, 2018 at 11:27pm
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — It was while eating lunch alone in a London restaurant that Mark Chavez had what he calls his awakening.
A South Valley kid who was in the middle of Silicon Valley’s tech boom and was living in London developing new markets for his employer, Salesforce.com, Chavez suddenly realized how completely hooked he was on constantly pulling out his phone to check his email, his Facebook page, his other social media accounts.
“I just thought, when was the last time I had an hour and was just present, and it hit me,” Chavez recalled. “That’s not possible anymore. We’ve raised a whole generation that only understands validation from what other people are telling them (online) about themselves – how many likes, how many comments.”
Chavez says he knew “as part of my job on the inside, how Silicon Valley strived to attract more users to spend ever more time on their platforms and harvest their data” with methods he likens to cigarette companies seeking to keep people hooked on tobacco.
With that realization, he decided to abandon his career and delete his entire online presence.
“I sold everything,” he said. “I burned everything to the ground and went back to the beginning.”
He also abandoned aspects of his personal life, including the name he had adopted when he first left New Mexico for college in Texas – Trae Chancellor – and an accompanying persona meant to “completely run away from who I was.”
“I played a whole different character, totally played it,” he said. “I thought I was completely inadequate, inferior and I couldn’t be that Hispanic kid from the South Valley. And there’s a more personal side. I’m gay. So I learned how to mask things at the earliest age.”
He returned to New Mexico last January, changed his name back to Mark Chavez and launched his new company, Lens, which aims to help people do what he did: disconnect from Facebook and other platforms to reclaim their own data.
Lens will offer a cloud-free device through which customers can share information with people of their choosing, he said. Users will have control over their personal data, and companies that want to see it will have to pay the individual for access.
Chavez said Lens is meant to counteract “these monopolies that get all our data and basically send it out to market to be sold for hundreds of billions of dollars, and we get nothing.”
It’s also meant to help people get away from what he sees as the destructive nature of getting hooked on spending so much time online.
“My personal journey is sort of the story of Lens,” he said. “It’s really to bring sort of the same experience that I’ve had coming to terms with finding internal validation as opposed to looking for it out there.”
For someone who was so immersed in the world of big tech, isn’t it ironic that your new product aims to help people avoid the cloud?
Right. But the conflict I had when I was at Salesforce was to really see the methods that were being applied to create what we considered to be a 360-degree view of the customer. We needed to know every interaction of our customer to understand how we could sell and market to them. It’s scary to understand how much information we could find on an individual. And we bought companies … to fill out this entire profile of the customer. If you want to look at the monetization, just look at the valuation of these companies. It’s incredible how much data is worth in this market that the individual isn’t even participating in.
What were you like as a kid?
First of all, I grew up in the South Valley on a ranch. My childhood was surrounded by ranch life. Getting up early, going to sleep early, but really, really … incredible values that are still with me. I was absolutely fascinated with science and technology, and that’s what really drove me toward nuclear engineering.
You went to Rio Grande High?
Yes, although I actually didn’t fit in anywhere. Obviously, I liked riding horses. I was a cowboy. I did play sports, but I didn’t fit in any one group. When I look back now, I always lived completely independent of systems. I think that really comes out today, and that’s my starting point. That’s why I can disconnect from pop culture and the other things and really question what’s happening underneath this and why is it there. And really being independent of all that.
After working in Silicon Valley and in London, did you ever think you’d be back in New Mexico?
No. I didn’t think I would have the opportunity to be back because my career was taking me to different places, but there are no coincidences, I believe, in life, and I think I do have a special set of circumstances in my own professional, spiritual and personal journey that can be applied in today’s world, and one is to build Lens.
Was it difficult when you disconnected three years ago?
Oh, yeah. What I clearly understand … is it’s not easy to get out of social media. It’s confronting addiction, pure and simple. You feel like you’ve left the structure that has become so life critical to you. All of a sudden, especially friends of mine, of course, they know I’m kind of independent. But they’re like,”we can’t find you anywhere, this is ridiculous.” But what happened is today I actually have stronger relationships with my friends because they’ll send me personal things. It’s not what do I read about them on Facebook or social media; they actually send me something specific with a personal note. I kind of like that.
What do you do in your free time?
My free time now is really about spending time with my family. To be here near my mom is a very special gift to me. It feeds the soul.
My newest hobby, being back in New Mexico, is travel in the state. There are so many points of interest that I can learn from and be inspired by. I picked up golf. So we as a (work) team, I thought it would be a humbling sport for all of us.
What are some of your favorite places?
Chaco Canyon ranks as No. 1 for me. I was really moved by being there. For whatever reason, I’m fascinated with former Soviet-era bloc countries – Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia. The richness in that history is quite interesting. London has been a real interesting focal point for me because of the diversity. When you go to dinner, you’re having conversations with people from around the world, and I thrive and starve for that diversity. New Mexico embodies a lot of that, too, but London takes that to another level.
What are your favorite foods?
New Mexican. Barelas (Coffee House) is my favorite restaurant here. I know the whole staff. It’s just a fantastic place to feel like you’re in the community and local.
Any hidden talents?
Writing. I take that from my mom. It’s non-fiction, but I like to put myself two years from now. So right now, I like to write that I’m living in 2020 and how’s my experience. What does the world look like?
What are your splurges?
Netflix is a splurge for me, and I am going to disconnect from that, I decided. I think the reason for that is I just want to know I can. Of course, there’s beautiful, great content, but at what cost (when) you think about the amount of time that’s (involved). And that’s what I try to evaluate now.
Do you have any role models?
My dad and mom, obviously were two important role models for me. The other natural choice is Elon Musk. I mean, where did this guy come from? His investment model is he understands there’s a threat to humanity, so what can he do? Well, he’s going to invest in solar and battery. He’s going to build cars to take carbon dioxide out and, last resort, rockets to get us to another planet if all else fails. I think that’s amazing.
If you’d asked me that a year ago, I would have had a ton of regrets, but today I don’t. Now that I look at the experiences that I’ve had and how they fit clearly into this role, I have no regrets.
THE BASICS: Chavez, 50, was born near Española and grew up in Albuquerque’s South Valley; bachelor’s degree in nuclear engineering from Texas A&M University, 1991; Rio Grande High School graduate, 1986.
POSITION: Lens, CEO; Salesforce.com, CIO; Los Alamos National Laboratory, technical staff member; volunteers at Camino Nuevo Youth Center; plans to partner Lens with the Wemagination center, which focuses on early child development using the concept of play.
DID YOU KNOW
• Chavez is a “huge fan of the airline industry.” He is working on getting his pilot’s license.
• He had planned to start Lens in London, where he was living, but found “unbelievable resources” through other New Mexico entrepreneurs and at the University of New Mexico Rainforest building, where his office is located.
On August 25, 2017, the Lobo Rainforest Building officially opened its doors to the UNM and New Mexico innovation and entrepreneurial communities. The building currently has a 100% occupancy rate for tenants located on the first floor and for the 310 students living in the apartments on the upper floors.
Since 2012, STC has been responsible for carrying out the economic development vision of the University of New Mexico to drive economic growth in New Mexico. It is our mission to foster a Rainforest in the Desert by nurturing innovation and catalyzing economic development. It is growth through research discoveries and innovation-driven startup activity.
That mission created Innovate ABQ, a UNM and community-based plan to build a research and innovation district in downtown Albuquerque. The Lobo Rainforest Building is the heart of the developing innovation district, connecting university technologies to the entrepreneurial community.
“The Lobo Rainforest Building has activated the core site,” said Lisa Kuuttila, STC.UNM’s CEO and chief economic development officer. “It’s a space where it is easy for the tenants and the students (from UNM’s Innovation Academy) and others to collaborate, which has always been the goal of the entire Innovate ABQ project. This building has been a fantastic catalyst for the innovation district.”
The Rainforest concept is a new model for developing innovation systems that explains how complex innovation economies are able to generate extraordinary creativity and economic output. Innovation systems use the concept of a rainforest to explain that the talent, ideas, and capital that produce successful innovation economies in places like Silicon Valley move freely, are highly diverse, and rapidly connect and collaborate from the bottom up—just like a biological rainforest.
The Lobo Rainforest Building is a human innovation ecosystem and is designed to carry out the Rainforest concept. Creativity, scientific discovery, business acumen, and investment capital randomly propagate and nurture budding ideas so they can grow into flourishing and sustainable enterprises.
The first floor is home to STC, the Cecchi VentureLab, STC’s incubator for startups, the Innovation Academy, UNM’s program for entrepreneurial students, the Air Force Research Lab tech transfer office, Sandia National Labs tech transfer office, tech company General Atomics, and a Nusenda Credit Union branch office. Everything is co-located on the ground floor so there are more opportunities to meet and work with other inventors, mentors, business advisors, and experienced entrepreneurs. Upper floors feature downtown apartment living for the 310 UNM students living at the building.
The Lobo Rainforest Building is the first structure to be completed at the core site for the Innovate ABQ innovation district. The next generation of homegrown entrepreneurs and innovators are in the making at the Lobo Rainforest Building.
See Collin Krabbe’s August 27, 2018 article, “What’s happening at Lobo Rainforest one year in,” from Albuquerque Business First, at https://www.bizjournals.com/albuquerque/news/2018/08/27/whats-happening-at-lobo-rainforest-one-year-in.html.
By Catherine Stringam Published 03/28/18
The University of New Mexico Innovation Academy hosted a Create Your Own Job Fair for young entrepreneurs on Tuesday.
Setting it aside from a traditional job fair, the event was structured to support young people interested in starting their own business — essentially creating their own jobs.
Companies from across Albuquerque — like Nusenda, WESST, Sandia Labs, Air Force Research Labs, ABQid, SCORE Business Mentoring and many more — set up booths and talked to students at Lobo Rainforest.
Students had the opportunity to wander through the non-traditional job fair and discuss their business ideas with company representatives. They received advice and information to help them reach their business goals.
“It’s definitely helpful to have all these people in one place, because they’re all diverse and all from different companies and have different ways to help,” UNM student Katherine Brunner said.
Connor Lites, a graduate student at UNM, said it can be hard to start a business, and this event helped him to find his next steps.
“It’s difficult figuring out where to go when you’re an entrepreneur,” Lites said. “I’m looking to get funding and mentorship and consulting, so this event was really great.”
Robert Del Campo, director of the Innovation Academy, said the last time the Create Your Own Job Fair happened was several years ago, but he wanted to bring it back to benefit students.
“We have different ways that we try to help and fund students that are interested in starting their own enterprise,” Del Campo said.
Some of these funds come from competitions, such as the Innovation Academy’s pitch competition coming up in April, he said.
“There’s a lot of free help to small businesses that they don’t really realize,” said Sandia National Labs Project Manager Judy Hendricks.
Hendricks said a small New Mexico business can come consult with the engineers and biologists at Sandia Labs for free. Many of the other companies at the career fair offer free consulting and aid for young business people as well.
The Innovation Academy currently works with 34 student-run businesses, according to Del Campo.
Kyle Guin attended the event and is one of these entrepreneurs at the academy. He currently runs a company called Shutter Bombs, which sells smoke bombs for use in photography and art.
Students Katherine Brunner and Molly Schmeltzer also attended the event and said they are trying to start a membership subscription for beer coupons.
“We talk about how our economy is depressed here in Albuquerque, but there are actually a lot of efforts that are being made to build our economy and our businesses and our community,” Lites said. “It’s important that we take advantage of these opportunities.”