June 5, 2018
“The InnovateABQ vision is to be as inclusive and diverse as we possibly can.”
– John Freisinger, Executive Director, Innovate ABQ
InnovateABQ, a seven-acre campus located at Central and Broadway, is something most in Albuquerque have heard of but few really know. Envisioned as a home to more than 600,000 square feet of laboratories, apartments, startup offices, makerspace and business incubators, it is a key part of the vision for Albuquerque’s innovation district in the heart of downtown.
We caught up with Executive Director John Freisinger on the top 10 things you need to know about Innovate ABQ.
1. It’s built on top of NM’s information superhighway
“A main trunk of the information superhighway runs right underneath us,” Freisinger says. “And we have direct access to the city-owned dark fiber under Central Ave.”
Little known fact: During the construction of Albuquerque Rapid Transit, the City of Albuquerque laid high-speed internet cable along the Central Ave corridor. This 288-strand cable will allow for nearly unlimited bandwidth along Central, connecting communities and neighborhoods to broadband at a much lower cost. Like an artery, smaller cables branch out to feed high-speed internet to other parts of the city and state. And where is the beating heart of it all? Right underneath InnovateABQ. The “internet trunk,” or major fiber conduit, is buried right under the parking lot.
2. It’s located at an historic crossroads
InnovateABQ sits at the intersection of New Mexico’s most culturally and historically significant routes: the oldest trade road in North America, El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro, the old Santa Fe Railroad and historic Route 66. “This is where ideas and culture have met for centuries,” Freisinger says. “It’s the crossroads of the major transportation milestones of America: the wagon wheel, iron wheel, and the automobile wheel.” Innovate ABQ aims to continue that legacy by increasing the flow of ideas and technologies that have been traded here throughout history.
3. People live on site
The most recognizable building on the InnovateABQ campus right now is the Lobo Rainforest. This five-story UNM housing complex is made up of two-bedroom units including a shared kitchen, living room, two bathrooms and washer/dryer.
The top two floors are leased by the Navajo Nation. The housing is reserved for Navajo students in an effort to create a culturally-sensitive, supportive environment, especially important for first-generation college students.
4. It’s not just for tech
Walk across campus and you can see sparks flying from a whirring bandsaw, a business plan workshop and a theater company building sets—and that’s just the beginning. Additionally, the New Mexico Small Business Assistance program (NMSBA) is housed on site. “If you have a challenge within your business, we’ve got someone to help you,” Freisinger says. “NMSBA has helped all types of businesses from creatives and artists to high-energy physicists.”
5. You can scan in 3D
There is over 11,000 square-feet of Makerspace at InnovationABQ, and it’s open to anyone. There’s a computer-controlled plasma cutter, a giant CNC router, and brand new Ultimaker 2 nozzle 3D printers. “There are numerous $100,000 tools that most startups and hobbyists could never access on their own,” Freisinger says. The coolest toy? It might be the scanner that can scan objects in 3D and then replicate them.
6. You can talk directly to Sandia Labs and Air Force scientists
It wouldn’t be a true innovation district without big minds on campus. Sandia Labs, Los Alamos Labs and the Air Force Research Lab represent the some state’s most cutting edge innovators and researchers, and are among the many InnovateABQ tenants who hold open office hours. Visitors can drop in their offices and talk directly to these scientists on the spot.
“This allows any local company to access Sandia scientists’ time and tools, and receive direct input,” Freisinger says. “If you have a technical problem that needs their expertise, there are programs that allow you to work directly with a Sandia technologist or Air Force engineer to solve it.”
7. The First Baptist church is being resurrected
The next phase of the InnovateABQ project is to remediate and renovate the First Baptist Church building. Plans for the historic church sanctuary and adjacent tower include a community gathering space, the 25,000-square-foot BioScience Center, as well as startup and makerspaces. Renovation is set to begin this fall.
8. Beer is coming
Considering the economic impact of microbrewing in New Mexico, Freisinger says local beer needs representation on campus. Plans are in the works to bring local taps to the restaurant and culinary startup spaces planned for the church building. Imagine a food court-like gathering space where startup restaurateurs can test menu items and concepts in a low-risk environment. “Pretty soon you’ll be able to walk around campus, grab a cold beer and a great meal and support local culinary entrepreneurship,” Freisinger says.
9. It’s all about access
The central tenet of the InnovateABQ vision “is to be as inclusive and diverse as we possibly can,” Freisinger says. “How do we create an environment that is inclusive and beneficial to anyone who needs access?” Located along the Albuquerque Rapid Transit line and built with ample parking, the campus is easy to reach by car, bus or bike. “In order to be successful, we needed an accessible transportation coordinator, floor plan and location to allow people to flow into and out of this campus as easily as possible,” Freisinger says.
10. Student startups are already up and running (and making money!)
In the months since opening in September 2017, InnovateABQ is living up to its big expectations. So far the campus is home to four dozen startups in different phases of development. Among them 11 student-led startups based out to the FUSE Makerspace and 10 from STC are already generating early revenue.