By MANDY MARKSTEINER
The Los Alamos Venture Accelerator (LAVA) promises to transform the way we create new businesses in Los Alamos. But how do we know that the plan will work?
As a community, we’ve tried several things to encourage entrepreneurs and increase the success rate of local startups without producing the desired economic results.
For example, The HIVE co-work space in White Rock provided local entrepreneurs with physical space with hopes that it would germinate. The groups who funded The HIVE learned that just providing “workspace” without the inclusion of mentoring, coaching and technical assistance was not a sustainable way to encourage entrepreneurs.
But if a physical work-space won’t make enough of a difference, what will?
A year ago, several of the community’s stakeholders jointly decided to conduct a professional feasibility study for creating a virtual business incubator in Los Alamos. Kathy Keith and Eric Vasquez with the Regional Development Corporation (RDC) led the effort and after a nationwide search, engaged Mark Long, of Long Performance Advisors (LPA), to make comprehensive recommendations on the feasibility of a virtual incubator or business accelerator serving Los Alamos County.
LPA interviewed key players in the entrepreneurial ecosystem supporting Los Alamos County. Long highly recommended moving ahead with the incubator idea but recommended focusing on overcoming problems like organization and capital.
“If it wasn’t doable, I wouldn’t recommend it,” Long said.
A key factor that will contribute to the success of an online-based business accelerator is that Los Alamos has an unrivaled talent pool of entrepreneurs and scientists with ideas that can be commercialized, Long said. Los Alamos faces the same challenges that other communities face: Like anywhere else in the country, raising money is an issue.
“The opportunity to obtain capital is the number one concern of every startup in the country, especially early stage capital, which is such a critical element to success,” he said.
With Long’s recommendation, analysis and guidance, representatives from the RDC, LACDC, UNM-LA, New Mexico Consortium, Los Alamos National Laboratory and Los Alamos Business Incubator met in May to develop an initial project plan for the LAVA initiative.
“Everybody needs to be on board and follow through with the things that we recommended,” Long said. “We need to make sure that everyone is on the same page, find a leader and take stock of Los Alamos’ assets, such as the pool of entrepreneurs and the scientists.”
Keith and Vasquez at the RDC played an active role in getting various stakeholders to work together.
“They have the potential to bring everyone together,” Long said. “The RDC has their finger on the pulse of the community. They are clearly engaged in the community. They set us up with the right people to talk to. Generally, when we do these studies we interview 25-30 people. They knew exactly who we should talk to. In most communities that isn’t true.”
One of the interviewees was Nicholas Seet a business and entrepreneurial expert who already built a virtual incubator, www.sivi.com, to serve as a one-stop shop for startups He was the clear choice for a leader and has been named the Los Alamos Startup Czar.
“Nicholas Seet is a tremendous asset to the community,” Long said. “He’s a brilliant guy. He is very well known in entrepreneurial circles. He did a fabulous job developing his online model of a venture accelerator. It is unique; nobody has anything like it. It has programs, education and support without a physical facility. Working with Nicholas is a tremendous opportunity for the town.”
Another recommendation is to mobilize the existing assets in Los Alamos. LAVA is currently developing a network of mentors, service providers and investors.
“It’s so important to put together a virtual support network and bring it to the public eye,” Long said.
Organization will make it possible to form an investment network of retired and wealthy individuals who would like to invest in small businesses. The existence of an investment network could swiftly change the local business landscape, and it is an attainable goal.
“It is a matter of gathering 20 or more people who are willing to take a look at a new venture,” Long said. “It only takes one success and people will jump on the bandwagon.”
Long recommended tapping into Los Alamos’s most impressive asset—its talent pool. When people connect with LAVA, they will have many opportunities to contribute to the success of new businesses.
The website for LAVA will officially launch Sept. 5, to coincide with the Los Alamos Science Fest. LAVA is amassing a support network of entrepreneurs, mentors, investors and service providers so that they can immediately help entrepreneurs bring their products to market.
People can get involved and stay informed by signing up at http://lava.guru or visit Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/LosAlamosVentureAccelerator.