Borderland support builds for tech startups

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El Paso – once known for its thriving garment industry which eventually crashed because of globalization – is on its way to becoming a smaller version of Silicon Valley, if some tech enthusiasts have their way.

Tech accelerators and incubators – businesses that offer El Paso’s 20-plus start-ups a place to work, meet and sometimes funding – are being built to help new firms on their way to becoming the next high-tech success story.

One area where the incubators – led by highly educated chief executives, some with doctoral degrees from prestigious universities and a wealth of experience garnered elsewhere – is helping entrepreneurs is in the medical field.

Julio Rincon, principal owner of MipTek, based out of the facilities at the MCA Innovation Center, is a biomedical engineer and is working on finding remedies to medical maladies, taking science to the market place.

“We find applications by making sure someone wants to buy this,” Rincon said. “Once we found that, now, we’re making it,” he said, adding it’s a circular path to go from laboratory to market.

But, being a start-up takes “patience and persistence,” said Jesus Carrillo, director of engineering at the Medical Center of the Americas Foundation which supports the MCA Innovation Center. He credited Rincon with an abundance of both.

He spoke as a more tenured intern conducted a tour for newly hired interns of the center one recent morning.

Rincon, who holds bachelor’s, master’s degrees as well as a doctorate degree from the University of Texas at El Paso, is his own boss as the founder of his own company along with his former UTEP adviser.

Rincon said while high-tech options are limited in El Paso, he decided to create his own firm and stay in town.

Developing an entrepreneural ecosystem

Beto Pallares, co-founder and managing director of Cowork Oasis, said he would never advocate graduates staying in El Paso, unless they want to. He vowed when he was 17 he’d leave town and never come back. Years later, he found his way home, as do many other El Paso natives.

Pallares is bullish on El Paso. “This is a 20-year commitment that we’ve made to the region and the development of the entrepreneur ecosystem. The intent is really to develop tech talent from middle school all the way up to post college,” he said.

Cowork Oasis is funded by private donations, investments and other financial means.

Startup education opportunity

JJ Childress, community engagement manager for Microsoft’s TechSpark program, said: “El Paso has been overlooked.”

El Paso’s binational, bilingual community is a microcosm of what the nation will become in a few years.

“Microsoft has a lot to learn from El Paso,” he said.

The software giant has teamed with four El Paso high schools through its TechSpark program, to inspire students to join the high-tech world, especially young women.

Among the high schools in the program is Lorretto Academy, an all-girls school in Central El Paso.

Equally bullish on the region is Carlos Martinez-Vela, president and chief executive officer for the Hub of Human Innovation, based in Downtown El Paso.

The Hub provides space, business acumen and at times funding for high-tech start-ups.

An advantage the El Paso-Juarez area has over others is that recently designed products could get to market quickly because of the strong manufacturing base in Juarez and the rest of Mexico.

“This created great opportunities for very distinctive kinds of businesses that have to do with the border,” Martinez-Vela said.

His goal is for the Hub “to be the focal point of a creative economy and entrepreneurship in the El Paso-Juarez region. That this (becomes) a place where people come when they have an idea and want to realize it.”

This multimedia story was produced for 2018 Dow Jones News Fund Multimedia Training Academy by Dino Chiecchi, Darren Phillips and Sarah V. Platt.

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