The person: Fifteen years ago, the Santa Fe Business Incubator broke ground after a realization from the local Chamber of Commerce and the City Council that the city was losing young people due to a lack of career opportunities, a trend that still haunts Santa Fe today. CEO Marie Longserre has been with the incubator every step of the way. In the 14 years since its opening, the incubator has helped local startup companies—mostly in the tech field—by giving them the right contacts, a place to rent office space in its Airport Road building, and advice on finding grants and funding. Longserre says the incubator leases office space to approximately 15 companies a year while helping out a few more remotely.
Eighty percent of the businesses that go through the incubator still have their doors open after five years, Longserre says. Generally, the inverse is true of small businesses that don’t use incubators.
“It’s very critical,” Carlos Gonzales, owner of local IT start-up Technology Solutions NM, tells SFR.
Gonzales has been leasing space for his company at the incubator for a year now. He employs six people and serves clients in New Mexico, Arizona and Texas. One of his clients came through contacts from the incubator.
“It’s allowed me to focus on my actual business more than other things,” Gonzales says.
The plan: Despite the incubator’s success, however, shifting Santa Fe’s economy away from heavy reliance on its usual industries will take much more than one entity’s well-intentioned efforts.
“Tourism will continue to be a major driver in this city,” Longserre tells SFR. “But our program and others have had a large impact on keeping and growing different types of businesses that have offered [people] career paths.”
To Longserre, one of the best things Santa Fe can do in uncertain economic times is to invest in proven programs, even the small ones. Another crucial step is to encourage more collaboration between the incubator and similar programs designed to help young entrepreneurs and professionals, such as MIX Santa Fe.
How it works: Longserre lists city efforts to get behind SCORE Santa Fe, a volunteer consulting group, as an example of investing in a proven program. Recently, the city backed SCORE’s series of workshops offering information on starting a business, which were free to the public. Longserre says more than 1,000 seats were filled last year during the seminars.
“It was an incredible service to the community for a small amount of money,” she says. Such efforts have allowed the city open up to young entrepreneurs with fresh ideas.
Bottom line: Much of the new can be built of what already makes the Santa Fe culture strong.
“I think there’s an intersection between the creative arts and tech development,” Longserre says.
As for leveraging more communication between programs, Longserre says the programs themselves can work on that as much as the city.
“We could get a little tighter on referring groups back and forth,” she says. “It’s up to the programs; it’s up to all of us.”