July 2, 2014 by Amanda Bradford, NMSU News Center
When computer engineer and would-be entrepreneur Aaron Garcia, a 1992 graduate of New Mexico State University, set out to find a location in Las Cruces for the electronic health records management company he was developing, he was really just looking for a secure building. What he found at NMSU’s Arrowhead Center, though, was much more than office space.
Garcia said it was his parents, Bill and Rose Garcia – both also alumni who are well-connected to the community and the university – who suggested he take a look at Arrowhead’s Technology Incubator. And his partnership with Arrowhead has accelerated the success of SiliconMesa, Garcia’s cloud-based software system for helping doctors get their patient files efficiently into a safe and secure digital format, as required by federal law.
“First of all, from a marketing perspective, the Technology Incubator location and the campus setting provides a cost-effective professional base of operation,” Garcia said. “You’re trying to present an image, and it helped a lot to have the relationship with NMSU.”
He said Arrowhead has been very flexible with the lease terms for the office space, allowing them to expand as needed. And being in a professionally furnished building with a reception area, conference rooms and staff on hand allows the company to do things like receive sensitive shipments safely, even when they’re not in the office. Many of the infrastructure and personnel benefits at Arrowhead would be expensive for the company to pay out-of-pocket.
Another important benefit for Garcia’s startup company is the network of experts, partners and resources that are available. For example, through Arrowhead, Garcia was able to work out a trade arrangement to provide electronic health records management for a campus mental health care clinic in exchange for an athletics program advertising sponsorship.
“We have the benefit of not just another client, but the credibility of a large institution as a client with additional future needs for our services,” he said. “It’s a partnership that Arrowhead helped facilitate.”
The wealth of data being stored in millions of digital health records represents a goldmine for identity thieves, so it’s essential for the SiliconMesa system architecture to be absolutely secure. Before becoming operational, SiliconMesa required a thorough third-party expert assessment to identify potential data security vulnerabilities ¬– a process that could cost up to $100,000 through a private vendor.
Through Arrowhead and the New Mexico Small Business Assistance program, Garcia was able to secure the services of technology specialists at Sandia National Labs, who researched and tested for vulnerabilities in the system. The results validated that SiliconMesa’s data was secure, which brought down the company’s insurance costs – and helps Garcia sleep at night.
The idea for SiliconMesa came from Garcia’s brother, Ric Garcia, as part of his master’s degree in systems engineering at NMSU. The project was an important part of the team’s concept and formed a solid foundation for the company, but Garcia pointed out that the market research needed more detail to be actionable.
“There’s a lot of competition out there in this market, so I wanted a good market research study done to understand which competitors were winning and which were the features that I should concentrate my software development team on first,” Garcia said. “I knew I needed this done, so I went to the Arrowhead team and they said, here’s an idea: the graduate marketing students in the College of Business – you could be their class project.”
The team of marketing students worked all semester on the project. “It was perfect. It was great experience for them, it was great information for us – and it was free,” Garcia said. “It helped us build a roadmap for what to do to our software to set our company apart from the competition.”
The company has been operational now for more than a year and a half, and has carefully managed its growth during that time, striking a balance between hiring new staff to support more clients and acquiring new clients to fund the growth. Arrowhead has been valuable in this, as well, connecting SiliconMesa to economic development programs that will subsidize a portion of a highly skilled employee’s salary during their on-the-job training period, reducing the initial cost and risk of creating new high-wage jobs right here in New Mexico.
“Arrowhead Center has definitely been a key enabler for us,” Garcia said. “Would we have succeeded without them? Yes, but they gave us an easier path. And at the same time, they let us be us. I didn’t feel like we were being hand-held. You have someone you can ask – if you need advice, you can go to them and they can get you the answers.”
Jason Koenig, director of entrepreneurship and technology commercialization at Arrowhead, says he’d like to see more alumni like Garcia take advantage of the resources available through the Technology Incubator and Entrepreneurship Institute.
“We’re seeing more and more alumni who are located throughout the state who haven’t been able to find what they need for their businesses,” Koenig said. “One of the things that Arrowhead specializes in is finding an answer to problems and making the right connections.”
In addition to the Arrowhead Technology Incubator, which helps technology-based companies like SiliconMesa connect to the resources they need, other Arrowhead Center programs provide a variety of business and policy services.
The Entrepreneurship Institute assists entrepreneurs and small business startups and expansions, providing resources that will help them reach the next stage in their ventures. The Office of Intellectual Property and Technology Transfer works with the NMSU community to manage, protect and commercialize creative products developed at the university. And the Office of Policy Analysis reports on current economic trends and policy issues in the state of New Mexico and surrounding regions, producing accurate, timely data for decision-makers and the general public.
For faculty and other university researchers, there’s also Launch, Arrowhead Center’s program for finding funding and supporting early-stage, commercially promising technologies developed at NMSU. Finally, students and recent graduates can develop their entrepreneurial ideas through Studio G, Arrowhead’s student incubator.
For more information about Arrowhead Center, visit http://arrowheadcenter.nmsu.edu.