Start-up bug infects gathering

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New Mexico Connect recognizes innovators

By Roger Snodgrass

TESUQUE – Peter Fiske confessed that he began showing “disturbing signs of an entrepreneurial spirit” as a geology student at Stanford University, when he cashed in on the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake – for a good cause.

He and his classmates auctioned off orphaned furniture from damaged buildings in the Bay Area and used the funds they raised to endow a geology program into the future.

Fiske was the keynote speaker Tuesday evening at New Mexico Connect’s third annual “client recognition” event at Tesuque’s posh Encantado Resort and Spa.

Later, while working at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Fiske said he had a relapse and found himself breaking away from a job he loved.

“I called myself a nuclear magnetic spectroscopist for a couple of years,” he said proudly, but then he decided to go to night school and get his MBA.

Soon he was having vivid dreams. Leaning into the microphone, he gave away the secret in a husky whisper — “making lots of money.”

He recalled his roller coaster years in business as the co-founder of RAPT Industries, a custom optics technology firm. After a roaring start followed by sputtering funds, only to get a second chance with the help of an angel investor, there was that memorable moment of landing the first contract.

“It was like cracking a bottle of oxygen at the top of the Himalayas,” he said.

New Mexico Connect is an umbrella organization for a collection of targeted programs sponsored by Los Alamos National Security, LLC that find and fund new companies and provide guided tours to the oxygen bottles in mountain ranges. The nonprofit Regional Development Corporation is a primary partner in this ambitious program.

“If you have some crazy idea come talk to us,” said Steve Girrens, LANL’s Tech Transfer division leader. “We’re always interested in making a crazy idea happen.”

The main features and personalities of the endeavor were in gear and on display at the event, despite the winter weather that closed Los Alamos National Laboratory for the day.

Much of the evening was devoted to busy networking, as mentors and novices, technical advisors and entrepreneurs caught up with each other and shared war stories and recent triumphs.

The entrepreneurs were called “pioneers of innovation” and several of them were asked to comment on what it was like.

Larry Mapes, a solar pioneer from the uncertified solar university of off-the-grid Taos, said it wasn’t quite as bad as the Donner Pass in the winter of 1986, referring to the location where the Donner party met a grisly end.

While continuing as an entrepreneur, now as Chief Technology Officer of PAX Mixer, Inc. and PAX Water Technologies, Fiske has parlayed his experience into writing and speaking on leadership and career development for young scientists and engineers.

“Who is going to save the U.S. economy and the entire planet?” he asked. “Who is going to be getting us out of a host of truly monumental catastrophes?”

The answer, he said, narrating a Powerpoint cartoon version of “our hero,” pictured as a fashion nightmare with a protractor sticking out of his pocket and wrinkled clothing, but with the saving grace of a very large “thought bubble” filled with advanced equations.

The country and the world is pulling for these geeks, Fiske said.

If they can’t pull a rabbit out of a hat, maybe they can at least find a legitimate value in a value chain that can create even a tiny extra advantage in the stubborn world.

There is not a single role for scientists and engineers, Fiske said, but a spectrum of possibilities. Finally, there are many ways for highly educated technical people to be active citizens, from mentoring to consulting to jumping into a business venture with both feet.

Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle comes into play. “You can’t know how it’s going to turn out,” Fisk said. “But would you rather say, ‘I wonder if that idea would have worked,’ or, ‘It didn’t work, but I’m glad I tried it.’”

Companies honored

by New Mexico Connect for 2009 included:

Elemetric Instruments

Energy Matter Conversion Corp.

GoLightly Cashmere

Ig-Nite New Mexico

New Mexico Community Capital

Rusty Schmit

Retreiver Tech

Rio Vista

Rocky Mountain Technology


Taos Entrepreneurial Network

Tool and Device Design

Valverde Energy