EquiSeq is developing a test to determine whether a foal has a specific gene that causes a fatal muscle malady within the first few years of life.
BY DAN MAYFIELD
Three years ago, Paul Szauter took the plunge.
He decided, after a career teaching genomics at the university level, that he was going to launch his own company with technology developed at UNM that would quickly and cheaply sequence a genome.
“At first, it was crickets,” he said. “Now, it’s heating up.”
His company, EquiSeq, is developing a test to determine whether a foal has a specific gene that causes a fatal muscle malady within the first few years of life.
If Szauter’s business plan holds, his database of gene sequences will become as vital to horse breeders as the Wall Street Journal is to investors and end the high-stakes gamble of “breeding in the blind” that can lead to euthanasia of a horse after considerable financial investment.
Szauter has gone through the ABQid program, a kind of boot camp for startups. He’s scouting customers and earlier this month, he hired a paid intern to help the company grow.
But the thing is, he said, it wouldn’t have happened just four years ago.
“No. Absolutely not,” he said. “I started this company and I didn’t have this office yet and things were slow. Then, in September of 2014 I walked into ‘Pitch Fiesta,’ I pitched, and won. I was buried in people. Webb Johnson called me. Gary Oppedahl called me. Since then, it has not stopped.”
Johnson is the managing director of the ABQid accelerator. Oppedahl is Albuquerque’s director of economic development. Both are on the front lines, helping the city’s entrepreneurial scene grow and thrive.
One of their first collaborations was the ABQid accelerator, a program for startups based on the lean startup method and the book by Eric Ries that seems to be on every startup’s bookshelf in Albuquerque. The program helped 10 companies launch in just 90 days this year, and it’s already gearing up for the 2016 class of between ten and 14 companies.
ABQid received almost $2 million from the city’s Economic Development Action Account, a $5 million fund that came from clawbacks on incentives the city recovered from Schott Solar when it closed.
The funds are being used at ABQid, run by the Verge Fund, a venture capital fund, and for other initiatives, like “Office Hours,” a two-hour block of time at Verge every Wednesday during which any entrepreneur can pop in and pick the brains of some of the city’s most successful entrepreneurs.
Earlier this year, Mayor Richard Berry announced a plan to capitalize on the city’s early start-up momentum by publishing a request for proposals for a $1 million marketing plan to tell the world the city is hopping.
And it has a lot to tout.
From the successful entrepreneurial presentation program 1 Million Cups, held on the Albuquerque High School campus every Wednesday morning, to a wealth of new accelerators (Creative Startups comes to mind), the city seems on its way to becoming, if not Silicon Valley, a place with that same kind of energy.
Stuart Rose, who built the city’s first biotech incubator, The BioScience Center, now home to 20 resident companies, said that while Albuquerque is ripe for something big the problem is money.
“Something has to happen that generates national attention so that it will attract talent and more entrepreneurs,” he said. “What we really need is adequate funding.”
Though the New Mexico Angels and other venture capital groups are providing seed funding, there are no investors locally who can help a company raise $1 million to $10 million. Lavu’s $15 million in capital, for example, came from out of state.
“That’s what’s missing,” Rose said. “Because of what’s happened over the last three-ish years, the infrastructure, the talent and interest is here and there are lots of startups. The keys to their success will be capital.”
Since diving into entrepreneurship, EquiSeq’s Szauter has discovered a brave new world outside of academia.
“Look how much it sucks to have a regular job,” Szauter said. “This isn’t about just starting a company. We had someone put down a horse in the study. People’s horses are dying in the study. It’s a reminder that this is not a useless exercise to buff my credentials. This is about solving this problem.”
Dan Mayfield is an Albuquerque journalist. Most recently, he was a reporter for Albuquerque Business First. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or through his website, TheDanMayfield.com