By  – Reporter, Albuquerque Business First
Nov 1, 2017, 7:21am

The health and bioscience industries are gaining traction in New Mexico. New Mexico State University has added to that by introducing a new specialized accelerator.

HealthSprint, run under NMSU’s entrepreneurship hub, the Arrowhead Center, will focus on teaching and supporting healthtech-related startups exclusively from New Mexico.

Wayne Savage, executive director of the Arrowhead Park, where the Arrowhead Center lives, explained HealthSprint came to be after he and others saw the progress NMSU’s health and life sciences programs were making, including the 2013 founding of the university’s Burrell College of Osteopathic Medicine.

“The university had about 40 different programs across these different colleges and campuses here that all related to health care and life sciences,” Savage said. “Although it was not a touted strength or expertise of the university, we actually had a broad capability.”

Those capabilities then translated to creating an accelerator toward which NMSU could put its resources to help nurture New Mexico’s blooming digital health startups, also called healthtech.

HealthSprint is the Arrowhead Center’s second accelerator. Its inaugural accelerator, which wrapped up in August, was New Mexico’s first to focus on agriculture technology. Called AgSprint, its cohort was made up of five “agtech” startups from around the country. They went through a five-month program that came with $2,000 in funding and business development assistance for each.

Program director Zetdi Sloan said HealthSprint has been in the works for about a year. Unlike AgSprint, the upcoming program will only accept startups from New Mexico – 10 of them, to be precise. But similarly to the previous accelerator, it will be a five-month program throughout which the entrepreneurs will receive training and advice from health care and technology professionals as well as $2,000 in funding upon graduation. More capital opportunities will arise for some participants further down the road, too.

Sloan said the accelerator will be looking strictly for digital health or healthtech startups to better serve New Mexico in the future.

“We recognize that there are other accelerators and support systems out there for entrepreneurs in the health sector, but one of the reasons that we focused on digital health and not just health care, in general, is because we wanted to focus on those technologies that are addressing gaps in health care that are specific to New Mexico, specifically around delivering health care to rural communities.”

Telehealth is one example of what HealthSprint is looking for. An example of this type of technology can be found in ABQ-based Twistle, which provides a messaging platform allowing patients and physicians to communicate remotely. Twistle has so far raised more than $5 million, its most recent raise taking place in August with $1.5 million.

Sloan said the accelerator is targeting startups involved in “alternative areas” of health.

“We want to encourage entrepreneurs who are working in the digital health space that may not have necessarily categorized themselves as that before. So we’re really trying to target entrepreneurs who are working in things like education and music,” she said.

HealthSprint will be accepting applications through Dec. 10.

New Mexico has been embracing health and bioscience quickly this year. Most recently, the New Mexico Biotechnology and Biomedical Association hosted its inaugural Bioscience Tech Knowledge Fair & Expo at UNM in mid-October.

In August the state formed a Bioscience Authority, meant on building up the bioscience industry locally. It was put together after Gov. Susana Martinez signed the Bioscience Development Act, which will help establish measures like a community readiness program to evaluate how prepared New Mexico’s cities and towns are to foster bioscience companies.

In March, accelerator ABQid announced it would be starting its first focused cohort exclusively for health and wellness startups. During an interview in March, executive director TJ Cook told Business First the timing was right.

“We don’t want to just focus on health and wellness companies. We want to focus on building the health and wellness of the startups and the founders of those companies,” he said. “I think New Mexico is a great place for that.”