Lobo Rainforest News

July 23, 2020

Local Startups Struggle Amid Coronavirus Pandemic

Over the past several months, the local startup community has faced unprecedented hardships amid the coronavirus pandemic. The U.S. economy has taken a devastating blow as stores are forced to halt operations in order to slow the spread of the virus and states are issuing stay-at-home orders. Among the most affected are small businesses that lack the funding and resources to draw on during these difficult times. See Kevin Robinson-Avila’s April 26 article, “Startups struggle to survive amid virus”, reprinted below from the Albuquerque Journal.


Startups struggle to survive amid virus

By Kevin Robinson-Avila / Journal Staff Writer

Monday, April 6th, 2020 at 12:02am


ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Michaela Brown’s Blush & Whimsy online lipstick and jewelry business is facing tough times in the coronavirus outbreak.

The Rio Rancho startup, which launched in 2016, earned national and even global prestige after Brown’s products were included in Oscar and Grammy celebrity gift bags, paving the way for Blush & Whimsy to be featured on the QVC shopping channel last year.

But when the coronavirus hit, the company’s supply chain collapsed, crippling operations since Brown’s jewelry and lipstick-packaging products come from China and South Korea via U.S. distributors.

One jewelry shipment is now stuck in Cincinnati, delayed by the coronavirus, and no more lipstick packaging is expected from Asia for another five to nine months.

“It all fell apart in January,” Brown told the Journal. “I’ve got just $7,000 worth of inventory left, with 100 lipstick units and a handful of jewelry. … I’ll keep going however I can, but it could be six months or more before I come out of this.”

Businesses across the board are facing major hardships from supply chain disruptions, travel restrictions and stay-at-home orders in many states. The pandemic has particularly impacted retail, restaurants and entertainment venues as their operations either completely ground to a halt or were severely curtailed.

Startups, however, face special challenges, since many are pre-revenue enterprises that are still building their businesses with limited finances. Some may have initial revenue flow, but most are still far from sustainable income or profitability, and the majority are now burning through their available cash as the world around shuts down, said John Mierzwa, CEO of Ingenuity Software, an Albuquerque startup that builds websites and other online capabilities for companies.

“All startups are now generally digging into their rainy day funds and bank accounts,” Mierzwa said. “Those funds could be depleted fairly quickly depending on how long the crisis lasts.”

Like many local startups, Ingenuity Software is facing difficulties as clients pull back on spending during the crisis.

“Work has slowed down,” Mierzwa said. “We had one client in Northern California that we were scheduled to re-do the software for on 36 training stations. We were ready to start, but now they have zero revenue coming in, so everything is on hold and the contract is frozen.”


Investment woes

Most startups are too early-stage to access traditional lines of credit, encouraging many to seek funding from private sources, including individual “angel” investors and venture funds.

But a lot of previously available angel and venture funding will become harder to obtain, since investors will likely be more cautious about backing new companies during the economic crisis generated by the coronavirus, said New Mexico Angels President John Chavez. Many will prefer to reserve their capital to help startups they already invested in to weather the downturn.

“We haven’t seen any local startups go under yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised if over the next two to four months we see companies that just can’t make it,” Chavez said.

Startups that already received early-stage funding from investors will likely fare better than those that haven’t, said Lisa Kuuttila, University of New Mexico chief economic development officer and president and CEO of the Science and Technology Corp., UNM’s tech transfer office.

“Companies that have already gotten funding now have committed investors backing them who will likely have more money available to help them through the crisis,” Kuuttila said. “But companies that haven’t raised money yet will struggle. One company we work with had promising prospects for funding, but with the coronavirus, nobody is talking with them now.”


Hard to connect

Stay-at-home restrictions have forced most startups to work remotely. Technology-based companies are generally already set up for that, but being cut off from community support bases and co-working sites can be challenging.

Both the Lobo Rainforest building at the Innovate ABQ research and development site Downtown and the FatPipe ABQ co-working space across the street are shut down.

“It’s a real adjustment for small businesses trying to get off the ground,” Kuuttila said. “They have no office to go to now.”

FatPipe Chief Operating Officer Lisa Adkins fears the current crisis could cause lasting damage to New Mexico’s budding startup community and ecosystem. Numerous business accelerators, co-working spaces and support programs have formed in recent years to encourage aspiring entrepreneurs to launch businesses, leading to hundreds of new local startups.

“The support network we’ve built as a community has made becoming an entrepreneur appealing to many more people,” Adkins said. “But many have risked everything and are now losing, or stand to lose, everything. I worry about the impact on the startup ecosystem, whether many people will be too scared to come back out and take risks again.”


Fighting to survive

Still, the community is finding ways to remain supportive to help startups through the crisis, with most local programs moving online. The weekly 1 Million Cups meet up, for example, usually held at FatPipe, is now operating through a live-streamed format, Adkins said.

CNM Ingenuity, which manages all commercial endeavors for Central New Mexico Community College, has moved its programs online, including two new cohorts scheduled to start this month for Deep Dive Coding and the ActivateNM startup accelerator. ActivateNM, run by CNM Ingenuity’s ABQid business accelerator, also launched a free weekly online webinar series to help startups during the crisis, said ABQid Executive Director T.J. Cook.

The Creative Startups business accelerator moved its entire curriculum to an online format. And UNM’s Innovation Academy launched a free crash course online for existing businesses and aspiring entrepreneurs to learn how to set up a virtual storefront and manage activities through the Internet.

Many entrepreneurs, meanwhile, say they’re determined to pull through.

Nicole Taylor, owner and CEO of pet care service House Nanny LLC, had to lay off 20 contract employees who walk, feed and care for customers’ dogs. Travel and stay-at-home restrictions mean fewer customers need dog-care services, and in any case, the governor has forced all “nonessential” businesses to shut down.

“We got hit pretty hard,” Taylor said. “We’re basically closed down with no cash flow.”

But Taylor is buckling down to await better times.

“We have a well-established client base, so when things start up again, we won’t be starting from scratch,” she said. “We will get through this thing.”

July 22, 2020

USPTO releases updated study on participation of women in the U.S. innovation economy

Press Release from United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO)

The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) today released “Progress and Potential: 2020 Update on U.S. Women Inventor-Patentees,” a follow-up to its 2019 report on U.S. women inventors. The new report updates the previous findings based on a review of an additional nearly one million issued patents and three years of new data, and it provides further insights into the participation of women in America’s intellectual property systems.

The report’s numerous findings include:

  • More women are entering and staying active in the patent system than ever before.
  • The number of patents with at least one woman inventor increased from 20.7% in 2016 to 21.9% by the end of 2019.
  • The “Women Inventor Rate”–the share of U.S. inventors receiving patents who are women–increased from 12.1% in 2016 to 12.8% in 2019.
  • The share of women among new inventors on issued patents increased from 16.6% in 2016 to 17.3% by 2019.
  • The gender gap in the number of women inventors who remain active by patenting again within five years is decreasing. For the most recent group of new inventors, 46% of women patented again in the next five years versus 52% of men.
  • Among the leading patent filers, the 3M Company showed the largest improvement in the participation of women inventor-patentees: Their average increased from 15.2% over 2007- 2016 to 16.6% for 2007-2019.

“This report is a great achievement for the USPTO and an important steppingstone for women in America’s intellectual property systems,” said Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross. “The USPTO has remained committed in their efforts to support women in innovation, and this positive momentum will continue to create a more inclusive intellectual property community.”

“Today’s report from the USPTO further highlights the important contributions of women to American innovation,” said Deputy Secretary of Commerce Karen Dunn Kelley. “I applaud the USPTO for their support of women inventors and their work to encourage women to take advantage of our nation’s intellectual property protections, the gold standard for the world. Everyone benefits when women fully participate in our innovation ecosystem.”

“The good news is that efforts to increase the participation of women in the intellectual property system continue to yield results,” said Andrei Iancu, Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO. “To retain our nation’s edge as a global innovation leader, we need even broader participation in patenting. That’s why the USPTO has made outreach to underrepresented groups a top priority. We will continue to work with industry and academia to expand participation in the innovation ecosystem. We will also shine a spotlight on the accomplishments of past and present women inventors, and inventors from other underrepresented groups, to inspire a new generation to participate in innovation.”

Access the full report on the USPTO website.

December 10, 2019

UNM I-Corps Site Program Trains Fifth Cohort Class

By STC, December 10, 2019

A group of entrepreneurially-minded faculty and students recently completed training through the University of New Mexico’s I-Corps site program. On November 25, 16 commercialization teams gave final presentations to program mentors, experienced entrepreneurs and investors, who gave the participants valuable feedback to help them take their inventions to the next level of development for funding, startup and licensing opportunities.

The University of New Mexico became an I-Corps (Innovation Corps) site in fall 2017 and has now completed its fifth cohort. The NSF-funded I-Corps program at the Lobo Rainforest Building is a partnership between STC.UNM and the Innovation Academy. The program is offered during the fall and spring semesters and is open to faculty and students at UNM and its branch campuses who want to learn how to commercialize their STEM-related technologies. Each team consists of a UNM faculty member, student, and business mentor.

The cohort of 16 teams met in September and completed the program’s 10-week entrepreneurial training course. Each team received $3,000 to develop their technologies, complete customer discovery, and develop a business model using the business model canvas. Two teams from AFRL-NM also participated in the National Labs Lobo Rainforest I-Corps program, funded by AFRL-NM and Sandia for teams from the national labs who want to participate in the UNM program. The fall 2019 teams worked on the following technologies:

  • UNM Teams
    • A blockchain-based alternative to your favorite social media
    • An eco-friendly baby bottle that eliminates the hassle and stress of feeding on the go while preserving our planet
    • A phone app to change the way business cards are utilized
    • A protective, water-repellent coating that solves problems from excess moisture on surfaces
    • A patch method to diagnose traumatic brain injury
    • An assistive add-on device for white canes, that uses sensors and hap-tic feedback to provide a broader detection
    • A hard-shelled cart that deploys for temporary shelter/ sleep.
    • A proprietary photo booth software
    • Palm-free soap and home goods that reduce the environmental impact of palm products
    • A profiler device that is used to characterize the surface texture of different materials in various applications
    • A passive, alert sensor patch for leaks
    • A semi-autonomy system (robot) and infrastructure design
    • An automated, e-commerce add-in to allow customers to create real-time design of products in an easy-to-use platform
    • A self-cleaning filtration system for environmental monitoring
  • Air Force Research Lab – New Mexico teams
    • IoT-based Solution to Water Management in Rural Areas
    • Toolbox of the Future for aircraft maintenance

To apply to participate in the Lobo Rainforest I-Corps program in spring 2020, complete the online application at http://loborainforest.com/icorps/.

December 10, 2019

Comcast Pitch Deck Competition a Success for Young Entrepreneurs

By STC, December 3, 2019

Albuquerque – December 3, 2019.  During an inspiring night at the Lobo Rainforest Building in downtown Albuquerque, five student entrepreneur teams went head to head and pitched their big ideas to an audience of business leaders, entrepreneurs and enthusiastic supporters.

The Comcast Pitch Deck Competition was co-hosted by STC.UNM and the UNM Innovation Academy, the University of New Mexico’s technology-transfer and economic-development organization and entrepreneurial studies program. Sponsored by Comcast and Nusenda Credit Union, the competition offered a platform for student entrepreneurs who want to start or are already operating an early-stage company to present and launch their innovations. Comcast provided a $20,000 prize pool for the five finalists who pitched their innovative ideas and early-stage companies to investor judges before an audience of more than 100 attendees.

The winners were:

  • First Place $10,000 Prize: Erik Strobert, Chemical Engineering, UNM, Perspective Components Inc. – seamless integration of artificial intelligence and gimbal hardware to deliver the world’s smallest Pan-Tilt-Zoom (PTZ) camera system
  • Second Place $5,000 Prize: Alissa Chavez, Communications, UNM, EasyFlo – eco-friendly baby bottle
  • Third Place $2,500 Prize: George Boujaoude, Computer Science, UNM, Tomas Manzanares, Computer Science, UNM, and Christian Seely, Computer Science, UNM, Bitekast – podcast listening platform advancing the way we listen to podcasts
  • Finalists $1,000 Prize each:
    • Anna Kuuttila, Master of Business Administration, UNM, and Sara Kuuttila-Webbert, Liberal Arts, UNM, Smarter Starter – children’s educational products tailored for children ages 0-4
    • Sam Crooks, Computer Science, UNM, Film Spots –online platform to scout and reserve film sites

“Partnering with STC.UNM and the Innovation Academy has been a fantastic experience. Our Comcast team is impressed by the talent and creativity showcased by these outstanding student entrepreneurs,” said Chris Dunkeson, Area Vice President, Comcast. “These students represent some of the best young talent in Albuquerque, and we can’t wait to see what’s next for them.”

STC CEO Lisa Kuuttila stated that the student finalists learned how to effectively plan a business model, how to attract investors, and how to market-test their business models to adapt to customers’ needs.  They were able to also network with and receive coaching from successful entrepreneurs.  “The preparation and coaching really helped them present with more confidence and professionalism.  Pitching is not easy, so they did a terrific job!”

“The progress our students made was tremendous,” added Innovation Academy Executive Director Rob DelCampo. “While this isn’t the final step in their entrepreneurial education, it is certainly a great step in the right direction.”

About Comcast
Comcast Corporation (Nasdaq: CMCSA) is a global media and technology company with three primary businesses: Comcast Cable, NBCUniversal, and Sky. Comcast Cable is one of the United States’ largest high-speed internet, video, and phone providers to residential customers under the Xfinity brand, and also provides these services to businesses. It also provides wireless and security and automation services to residential customers under the Xfinity brand. NBCUniversal is global and operates news, entertainment and sports cable networks, the NBC and Telemundo broadcast networks, television production operations, television station groups, Universal Pictures, and Universal Parks and Resorts. Sky is one of Europe’s leading media and entertainment companies, connecting customers to a broad range of video content through its pay television services. It also provides communications services, including residential high-speed internet, phone, and wireless services. Sky operates the Sky News broadcast network and sports and entertainment networks, produces original content, and has exclusive content rights. Visit www.comcastcorporation.com for more information.

About Innovation Academy
The Innovation Academy is a mindset shared by the UNM Community that asks “how do we teach and learn best so that students are prepared for life beyond college?” Based on the Rainforest theory of a bottom-up approach to innovation, iA encourages different people and groups to come together to create.  It is a cross-pollinating approach to finding solutions to problems and developing new ideas. It is based on the belief that solutions can be found when people with different backgrounds and skills come together to work on real problems and needs coming from companies and the community.  This type of experiential, or hands-on, learning prepares students to be successful in careers and work places in the real world and deepen their core subject knowledge.  Visit innovationacademy.unm.edu/ for more information.

As the technology-transfer and economic-development organization for the University of New Mexico (UNM), STC.UNM (STC) protects and commercializes technologies developed at UNM by filing patents and copyrights and transferring them to the marketplace.  We connect the business community (companies, entrepreneurs and investors) to these UNM technologies for licensing opportunities and the creation of start-up companies. STC’s vision is to play a vital role in New Mexico’s economic development and to be a leader in technology commercialization.  Under the leadership of CEO Lisa Kuuttila, STC is substantially growing its program using the Rainforest model to develop an innovation economy in New Mexico.  Visit our website at www.stc.unm.edu.


Media Contacts

Julianne Phares

Denise Bissell

Also see Kevin Robinson-Avila’s December 3, 2019 article, “Students win $20,000 in new ‘Pitch Deck’ competition,” from the Albuquerque Journal, reprinted below

Comcast Pitch Deck Competition, Monday, Dec, 2 2019, in Albuquerque N.M. (Eric Draper/AP Images for Comcast)


Students win $20,000 in new ‘Pitch Deck’ competition

By Kevin Robinson-Avila / Journal Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 3rd, 2019 at 2:04pm

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Five teams of University of New Mexico students shared $20,000 in cash prizes Monday night in a new “Pitch Deck” competition sponsored by Comcast and Nusenda Credit Union.

Students pitched about the progress they’ve made in building novel startup companies to three judges from venture capital firms at UNM’s Lobo Rainforest building at the Innovate ABQ research and development zone Downtown.

Perspective Components Inc. won the $10,000 first-place prize for proprietary gimbal hardware it built to improve the efficiency and quality of imaging systems on smartphones and cameras, which it will use to break into the security surveillance market. That company also won the $10,000 first-place prize in October’s “Balloon Pitch,” organized by the ABQid business accelerator.

Alissa Chavez, a UNM student who previously earned national attention for inventing a “Hot Seat” to alert adults about babies left in cars when she was just 14, won the $5,000 second-place award for her new “EasyFlo” baby bottle for parents on the go, which stores formula and water in a single bottle for quick, easy feeding.

A team of computer science students won $2,500 for a new platform they’re building to share chunks, or bites, of podcast presentations. Two others won $1,000 each for an online platform to scout and reserve film sites, and for an e-commerce business offering specialized educational materials for children under 4.

UNM’s Innovation Academy and the Science and Technology Corp., UNM’s tech-transfer office, will now make the event an annual competition that differs from their five-year-old, twice-annual Elevator Pitch.

The Pitch Deck requires extensive preparation for a deep, 10-minute dive into what a startup is offering, its business plan, financial projections, customer validation, and more, said Academy Director Rob DelCampo. The Elevator Pitch only offers lightning-fast presentations to promote a business idea.

“It’s a showcase for student startups to progress to the next level,” DelCampo said. “It’s an investment-style pitch to show whether a startup has something real to offer that could attract investors.”

It’s open to university students statewide, although 23 of the 25 participating teams came from UNM, including the five finalists, likely because the event is so new, DelCampo said.

UNM President Garnett S. Stokes called it a “next-level” competition to advance student entrepreneurship and training.

“These students are New Mexico’s new economic drivers,” Stokes told event participants. “Over the past three years, STC and Innovation Academy programs and events have helped students launch more than 60 startups.”

Comcast contributed the $20,000 in prize money, plus $5,000 for event-related costs. Nusenda also gave $5,000.

“As we look to the future, these student businesses will grow and become part of the economy bedrock,” Comcast Area Vice President Chris Dunkeson told the Journal. “We want to give young entrepreneurs a chance to show what they can do and help them move forward.”

December 10, 2019

Rainforest University Center Seminars Available for Viewing on Website

By STC, December 6, 2019

In 2018, STC.UNM and the Innovation Academy received a grant from the federal Economic Development Administration (EDA) to support student and community entrepreneurs and provide training and technical assistance at all UNM campuses.  The grant funds the New Mexico Rainforest EDA University Center, a training program in the fundamentals of entrepreneurship for students and community members at all UNM campuses around the state.

Over the past year, the program has produced 12 seminars that are now available for viewing online at the University Center website.  The posted seminars, presentation slides and additional materials are available free to anyone who wants to learn the basic ins and outs of creating and growing a business in New Mexico.

The seminars are presented at UNM’s main and branch campuses and are taught by site mentors and other community professionals who are experienced entrepreneurs and investors.  Participants have the option to attend in person or remotely via live webstream.  Best of all, the seminars are then posted to the website for anyone to view again or for the first time.  Additionally, the site mentors provide follow-up services through individual mentoring and connecting participants to resources that will help them to reach their goal of starting or growing a new business.

The posted seminars also include an online assessment that viewers can take if they want to receive class credit towards their degree or want to receive credit towards a Certificate of Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

Below is a list of the seminars now available for viewing on the website:

  • “Business Idea Generation”
  • “Pitching and Presenting Your Idea!”
  • “Market Analysis”
  • “Business Model Canvas”
  • “Collaborative Problem Solving Through Design Thinking”
  • “Networking and Business Development”
  • “Pathways to Success—Small Business Ownership”
  • “UNM-Gallup University Center Info Session and Meet a Mentor”
  • “Sustainable eCommerce Business for Students”
  • “How to Write, Practice and Record Your Pitch”
  • “Selling Without a Store”
  • “Taxes and Business Startups”

The next seminar will held at UNM Taos on December 9, 2019 and cover “Strategic Networking: Maximizing Your Connections to Grow Your New Business.” Registration is available at https://strategicnetworkingnm.eventbrite.com.

Students and community members also have access to a series of courses based on an eCommerce platform designed to help establish a digital presence by creating websites for their new and growing businesses.  The Create.Sell.Bank series of introductory and next-level courses are available in the fall and spring for undergraduate and graduate credit or credit towards the certificate.

A new community-focused, 16-week program, the “e-commerce Rainforest” will launch in January 2020. Participants will experience a variety of innovation based e-commerce processes for building a business online. The program is open to anyone for $47. Registration will be available at NMRainforest.com.

“The EDA funding has allowed us to spread the Rainforest program for developing innovation and economic ecosystems across the state to boost regional economic development,” said STC CEO Lisa Kuuttila.  “In just its first year of operation, the New Mexico Rainforest University Center Program has created strong rural-urban linkages and collaborations with our Native American and Hispanic rural communities, areas of focus that are especially relevant for New Mexico.  We anticipate even greater growth moving forward!”

 For more information about the New Mexico Rainforest University Center Program, contact Cecilia Pacheco at cpacheco@stc.unm.edu.