Home-Grown Startups Fuel Job Growth and Opportunities for Students
FEATURE

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Left: (L-R) Dave Pesiri, division leader of LANL’s Feynman Center for Innovation, Kathy Keith, chair of the SFCC Governing Board and Director of LANL Community Partnerships, U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich, Dr. Alex Koglin, Co-founder of NTxBio, Dr. Michael Humbert, Co-founder of NTxBio, and SFCC President Randy Grissom. Copyright 2016 Anna C. Hansen.

Excitement is brewing at SFCC’s Trades and Advanced Technology Center (TATC), where partnerships with Santa Fe startups are opening up cutting-edge career opportunities for students as well as benefiting the Santa Fe community.

 

The college provides lab space, student interns and other tools for such innovative Santa Fe startups as NTxBio, which is developing a commercial platform to help pharmaceutical companies bring new drugs to market in months instead of years. In addition, the TATC constantly updates its curriculum to make sure its students are well-positioned for careers in these startups and in other businesses like them. “As a community college we can and should take a larger role in economic development in the community and Santa Fe needs that,” says SFCC President Randy W. Grissom.

“Our primary job in the past has been training workers, but in Santa Fe we need more businesses and we need more jobs for our graduates. That’s how the Trades and Advanced Technology Center contributes to strengthening our local economy: by encouraging and nurturing entrepreneurship.” Partnering with startups provide both, along with them possibility of creating a local community for business innovators. “I would love to see any of the businesses that grow out of here go right across the street,” said Grissom. “They could be places where our students could do internships or go to work.

“AS A COMMUNITY COLLEGE WE CAN AND SHOULD TAKE A LARGER ROLE IN ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT IN THE COMMUNITY AND SANTA FE NEEDS THAT.”

                                                                                                                                                     – President Randy Grissom

Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales and U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich talk during the tour of the NTxBio analytics lab after the ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Trades and Advanced Technology Center. Copyright 2016 Anna C. Hansen

Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales and U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich talk during the tour of the NTxBio analytics lab after the ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Trades and Advanced Technology Center. Copyright 2016 Anna C. Hansen

I envision a research corridor, the same way that Duke University in Durham, North Carolina is part of the Research Triangle Park.” In addition, the partnering startups also enhance the educational experience for students by providing guest lecturers and lab instructors in the many areas where their businesses overlap with SFCC course content—from Biology and Engineering to Alternative Fuels, Business, Water Technologies and more, according to Ondine Frauenglass, assistant director of SFCC Biofuels Center of Excellence.

“These startup companies also offer internships to students, providing valuable hands-on experience in real work environments on campus,” Frauenglass adds. “Along with exposure to what it takes to create a new business, students get to work with people who are innovators, and that’s a different type of person. I believe there’s a huge educational piece to that,” Grissom says. The partnership between SFCC and NTxBio was forged with the help of the High Desert Discovery District, a nonprofit group devoted to identifying and commercializing technology projects in New Mexico.

“In the early development of this startup, we considered the capacity of a variety of facilities that could host NTxBio,” says Michelle D. Miller, HD3’s founder and CEO. “It was during this time that we approached SFCC to explore whether a synergistic relationship could be created whereby the startup community could benefit by SFCC, and SFCC could benefit with the presence of highly dynamic startups on their campus.

“FOR US, THESE PARTNERSHIPS OFFER AN INCREDIBLE WAY TO GIVE OUR STUDENTS EXPOSURE TO THE SCIENTIFIC METHOD.”

                                                                                                                                                      – President Randy Grissom

It turns out that this was a concept that was a win-win, and HD3 and SFCC worked collaboratively to develop an environment where this could happen.” Other startups that have paired with SFCC include Apogee Spirulina, producing artisan-grown, hand harvested spirulina (nutrient-rich algae that is a food source); Spartina, growing native drought-tolerant grasses to be turned into pellets and burned for energy; and Rio Grande Neurosciences, developing cutting-edge products to treat brain injuries. Rio Grande Neurosciences is part of a larger project that aims to create a neurosciences corridor between Albuquerque and Los Alamos, with Santa Fe at the center.

Above and on the cover: Co-founder of NTxBio, Dr. Michael Humbert and SFCC student, Jeremiah Star.

Above and on the cover: Co-founder of NTxBio, Dr. Michael Humbert and SFCC student, Jeremiah Star.

“HD3, the University of New Mexico and other New Mexico institutions believe that New Mexico has a great many research and development capabilities in the neurosciences that —if supported properly—could create a neuro-cluster effect, meaning young startups in this arena coming from research/technology development/science could create a startup cluster effect in the Rio Grande Corridor,” Miller explains, adding that other institutions with an interest in neurosciences include Los Alamos National Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratories, Mind Research Institute and Air Force Research Laboratory New Mexico.

Bringing innovative startups to SFCC’s campus is making a huge difference in the lives of students. “For us, these partnerships offer an incredible way to give our students exposure to the scientific method,” Grissom says. “We have students who dropped out of high school and come here to get trained in a technical area and they then get excited about science and math and get a degree in engineering.  This is a way to make education relevant for a group of people for whom it wasn’t relevant before.”

Grissom is so enthusiastic about the benefits of these partnerships, he wants to ensure there’s plenty of room to accommodate them. “One of the challenges we have right now is having the space to do some of these things,” he says. “We’re embarking on an update to our Master Plan and thinking about setting aside some space for business industry relationships on campus. It’s my opinion that whether the businesses are ultimately successful or not, it’s great for our students to be part of this type of enterprise.”