Why Santa Fe Attracts Talent in the Creative Arts

October 31, 2017

1:30 pm

New Mexico is known for being a location host to the Hollywood film industry. From films like Sicario and No Country for Old Men, to TV shows such as Breaking Bad and the latest installation of Meow Wolf, this state consistently welcomes the creative arts with open arms.

Santa Fe, the capital of New Mexico, is primarily known for it’s tourist attractions, historic crooked streets and Native American culture inspiration. The hidden secret is that talent in the creative arts is flocking to the city and bringing tech, digital arts and film with them.

In this #StartupsEverywhere series, we talked with Eric Streeper, founder of Xerb, who gives us a behind-the-scenes look at life and entrepreneurship in Santa Fe.

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What’s your role in the Santa Fe area startup ecosystem?

I’m the founder of a company called Xerb, which is a video streaming platform built for content creators.we provide an easy way to distribute your content that will pay better than ad-supported services. If you’re a subscriber, we let you pick just channels that you’re interested in and pay only for those, and your money supports creators directly. I work both on the technical side (our stack is a tasty stew of React, Kubernetes, and GraphQL, with some Elixir and Python sprinkled in for good measure), and on the business side finding partners, running events, drinking coffee, and running our finances.

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What’s the most exciting thing that has happened for Santa Fe in the past year?

The opening of Meow Wolf has been really exciting as it has become a focal point and source of inspiration for our community. While it is incredibly difficult to describe, it’s essentially a giant indoor art experience that leads you through a house that is caught in an inter-dimensional rift in the universe. It has completely captured the imagination of the city and showed that it was possible to be creative and financially successful at the same time. Its opening has created a lot of buzz and excitement around the possibility of creative entrepreneurship.

What are some of the traditional industries in Santa Fe? How have they shaped the startup ecosystem there?

Santa Fe has a rich tradition of artisans and craftspeople that has been shaped by thousands of years of native culture and a large influx of artists in the 1920’s who were attracted to the history and character of the city. The impact of these traditions is readily apparent today, and has helped spur a booming tourist industry, a thriving arts scene, and a unique blend of cultures and people that is leading to really interesting cross-pollination of ideas and disciplines.

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What are the biggest challenges you face in Santa Fe?

Santa Fe is much more expensive compared to the rest of the state, though the cost of living here is still much lower than many other startup cities. In addition, there aren’t many traditional job opportunities, especially for young people, which has caused many of them to leave. However, I’m beginning to notice a rise in young people moving back here to explore unconventional career paths, which has created a lot of unique businesses and a culture of experimentation.

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What are some of the inputs that have helped your ecosystem grow?

First and foremost, the creative talent in a diverse set of disciplines -filmmaking, fine arts, performance, music, and increasingly software -which has filled the city with people doing extraordinary and fascinating things. Santa Fe is also fortunate to have incredible resources. We have workshops and events at the Santa Fe Business Incubator, maker spaces packed with CNC machines, 3D printers, and laser cutters, and breathtaking mountains, forests, lakes, and deserts that truly add to the quality of life. In addition, there are two national research laboratories within an hour of the city.

At the end of the day, the quality of life here is also very hard to beat: there are always lots of shows, concerts, and events going on, but it’s also easy to find solitude in nature by driving just a few minutes outside of the city, or to enjoy it around a fire in your backyard while looking up at the sky in a city where you can still see the stars.

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What are the most unique features of the Santa Fe startup community?

Santa Fe is a very welcoming, tolerant place, that celebrates diversity and inclusion. There are many colorful people and lots of alternative thinking, and it’s common to strike up conversations with strangers in a coffee shop, at a gas station, or in line at the grocery store. This has led to a very open atmosphere that has had a big impact on the startup community, and it doesn’t take long to get rooted as an entrepreneur here. Because the city is small, you end up seeing the same people all over, which has led to a very tight-knit community where people are always willing to help you.

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Are there specific public policies or regulatory landscape features that have enabled startup growth in Santa Fe?

New Mexico takes film very seriously, and thanks to crew training programs that have led to an excellent and experienced crew base and 25-30 percent incentive rebates that start at the first dollar spent, the film industry spent $387 million in a state with a population just over 2 million. Many cities across the state have focused on entrepreneurship which has sparked a number of accelerator programs and incubators, and there are some great no-interest loan programs and grants available.

Are there some (other) startups to watch coming out of the Santa Fe area?

Along with the aforementioned Meow Wolf, a great example is Descartes Labs, which is a tech company stocked with scientists and engineers from Los Alamos National Labs that uses machine learning to analyze and derive insights from satellite imagery. Another interesting company, Simtable, uses projection onto 3D surfaces to do data-driven modeling of wildfires and other natural disasters, YXO has developed the world’s lightest, strongest structure, and BounceChat lets people build mobile apps in just a few minutes.

Read more about startups from New Mexico at TechCo

Read more about startups from around the country at TechCo 

This article is courtesy of Engine's #StartupsEverywhere series, a campaign celebrating the diverse, vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystems that are taking root in every corner of the country. Through weekly profiles of startup ecosystem leaders, the project showcases exciting developments in a variety of rising startup communities. If you are interested in having your ecosystem featured, shoot an email to [email protected].

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Emma Peck is a policy analyst at Engine, a nonprofit that supports the growth of technology entrepreneurship through economic research, policy analysis and advocacy on local and national issues.

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