There is a good chance that if you know anything about Albuquerque, New Mexico, you know it for being the setting of Breaking Bad.
However, around the time Bryan Cranston’s meth-dealing chemistry teacher Walter White died in a gunfight (rest in peace, Mr. White!), Albuquerque began building Innovate ABQ, one of the most unique innovation districts in the country. Rather than focusing on incubating the next Instagram or Snapchat, Albuquerque’s burgeoning entrepreneurial ecosystem focuses on “Democratizing the resources entrepreneurs need to succeed,” according to Albuquerque Mayor Richard J. Berry.
In other words, Innovate ABQ focuses on putting previously unavailable or cost-prohibitive resources in the hands of entrepreneurs and startups.
One of those resources is the tremendous amount of high-level research conducted at Sandia National Laboratories, Los Alamos National Laboratory, the University of New Mexico, New Mexico State University, White Sands Missile Range, and the Air Force Research Laboratory. Those institutions and organizations conduct more than $6
billion of new research annually, the vast majority of which is uncommercialized.
The potential of that research is one reason the developers of Innovate ABQ located the Air Force Research Laboratory Tech Engagement Office near five floors of student housing.
“What’s really cool about matching students and PhD research scientists is that it creates awesome opportunities to use intellectual property in ways the original researchers never anticipated,” said Gary Oppedahl, the city’s economic development director. “That idea is one of the core parts of the innovation community we’re building in Albuquerque.”
It isn’t just the presence of nuclear laboratories and advanced research that makes Albuquerque’s approach to developing an entrepreneurial ecosystem different. After announcing that local nonprofit Women’s Economic Self-Sufficiency Team (WESST) would receive a third Mayor’s Prize for Entrepreneurship, this time for a program specifically created to help immigrant entrepreneurs, Berry–a two-term Republican–noted that like a lot of his fellow mayors, he believes that the economic potential of refugees and immigrants is “underutilized and underleveraged.”
You do not need to be a political expert to know that in 2017, a two-term Republican acknowledging the potentially controversial–yet factually indisputable–idea that immigrants and refugees have the potential to be successful entrepreneurs is rare.
That combination of a staggering amount of hi-tech research and a community-oriented, inclusive approach to creating a startup ecosystem means that New Mexico’s largest city is well positioned to become more than just the former home of a fictional (and oddly beloved, at least in my house) fictional methamphetamine kingpin.
Creating a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem requires not just technical talent and funding, but an approach that acknowledges the importance of shared prosperity. A startup ecosystem that isn’t inclusive of a community’s immigrant and minority population is an ecosystem destined to fail, no matter how much venture capital or talented young founders it manages to attract.
Luckily for them, Albuquerque’s political and community leadership seems to understand that–and the result is a fast-growing, community-supported startup scene.