Monday, November 24, 2008

New small-business center ready to hatch

[Source: Joe Ferguson, Arizona Daily Sun] - The first home for what Flagstaff officials hope will be the next generation of businesses focusing on clean energy and technology officially opened Tuesday on McMillan Mesa.

The 10,000 square-foot, state-of-the art facility, known as the Northern Arizona Center for Emerging Technologies, will serve as a small-business incubator for entrepreneurs and startups. NACET will focus on high-tech, science-based businesses as well as renewable energy firms.
Gov. Janet Napolitano was one of several politicians who hailed the incubator as a step to diversify the local economy and support fledgling businesses. She touched on the current economy, saying Arizona needs to reduce its dependence on industries like home construction prone to boom and bust cycles.

“I think in Arizona we have seen why it is that we must continue to plant the seeds of diversifying ... so that we are not overly dependent on one industry such as construction. We have been through several construction cycles now since I’ve been governor, each one worse than one before. We always come out, but they are very difficult to go through,” Napolitano told reporters.

She said she was pleased to see a new incubator that will benefit communities in northern Arizona.

“One of our chief goals is to keep improving education, workforce development and projects such as NACET right here in Flagstaff. To keep diversifying the economy and to do it outside of Maricopa County,” Napolitano said.

One of the incubator’s first tenants is SenesTech, a fledgling biotechnology company started six years ago by NAU alum Loretta Mayer.

The company has one of the largest presences in the incubator, with several employees working out of a total of seven labs and offices.

The company is working on manufacturing a nontoxic alternative to the poisons currently used to keep rice-field rats under control.

The company recently signed a contract with the Australian government to produce the compound. Senestech hopes to have a marketable product with the next two years, according to NACET.

Local businessman Lavelle McCoy said he has been working on establishing a business incubator in Flagstaff for eight years. He currently serves as the chairman of NACET’s board of directors.
McCoy was proud of the new building but said it’s the companies that are the future of northern Arizona.

“This is more than just a facility. The facility is an instrument. What really matters is what we are going to accomplish going forward,” McCoy said.

The incubator was nearly scrapped by NAU a few years ago when increases in the cost of construction materials caused the university to scale back the project to half its originally planned size — 5,000 square feet.

The Flagstaff City Council then stepped in to take the lead on the incubator using a federal grant from the Economic Development Administration to help build the facility on city land adjacent to the USGS campus.

NACET will also be the home to Northern Arizona University’s tech-transfer office, which will help the school develop and commercialize inventions made by NAU faculty.

The agreement will be more efficient than the previous agreement NAU had with the Valley-based Arizona Science and Technology Enterprises.

NAU President John Haeger said NACET will be “economic breadbasket” for the local economy in the future.

Andy Kruse, a co-founder of Southwest Windpower, said he could have used the support now offered by NACET back in 1987. Back then, he and co-founder David Calley were tinkering in his garage with a prototype wind turbine using a modified Ford alternator.

At the time, the closest place the would-be entrepreneurs could go for help was the Small Business Administration in Phoenix.

“When we started out, the SBA was the place to go for small businesses to try and get advice and to build your businesses. But it was in Phoenix,” Kruse said. “It was really difficult starting out because we didn’t have any of the tools and we probably made more mistakes than we would have if we had NACET here back then. We would have probably been bigger by now.”

Joe Ferguson can be reached at 556-2253 or

Companies currently at NACET
— Ambature LLC, is developing a new class of materials that improve the efficiency of power distribution while reducing electricity consumption.
— Algae Biosciences Corporation discovers, develops, produces, manufactures, and markets products that originate from marine and fresh water organisms.
— Foresight Wind Energy develops wind energy sources throughout the West.
— Keya Earth focuses on sustainable development strategies for Native American communities.
— SenesTech specializes in reproductive physiology. Specifically, nonsurgical methods for controlling reproduction in rodent and wildlife populations.
— Quantance, a semiconductor startup, has developed and patented technology innovations in radio frequency transmission efficiency that significantly increases signal power while requiring less battery power.
— SunWind Solutions produces web-based software for designing renewable energy systems.
Companies affiliated with NACET
— Abineau Communications is a boutique digital communications company that develops fixed and mobile wireless applications.
— Arizona High Spirits Distillery/Mogollon Brewing Company has launched a number of sustainable-technology initiatives related to the production of beer and high-end, distilled consumer products.
— Density Investments develops planning strategies that are designed to address urban sprawl using unique products.
— Motor Excellence is developing a disruptive electric motor and generator technology with broad potential applications.
— Visible Energy provides customer-friendly monitoring services that reduce energy usage and costs.
— Source: Northern Arizona Center for Emerging Technologies

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