Texas Tech University

Hub Mentor Guides Startups and Regional Economic Growth Efforts

Innovation Hub Team

February 10, 2020

Dr. Nick Bergfeld says innovation and entrepreneurship are key to West Texas' vitality

When it comes to enhancing the economic health of Lubbock and West Texas, the doctor is in.

Texas Tech Innovation Hub and NSF I-Corps mentor Dr. Nick Bergfeld keeps a figurative finger on the pulse of the region's entrepreneurial ecosystem. His overarching goal is to see that this community he's deeply invested in continues to thrive. Through the Hub, Bergfeld is volunteering his varied experience and expertise to promote that cause.

While Bergfeld has an M.D. from Yale, his career continues to focus on best practices for improving quality of life rather than on practicing clinical medicine. He says his chief passions are encouraging community engagement, innovative investments, and what he calls "interdisciplinary health-in-all-policies approaches to economic development."

The Texas Tech alumnus earned a Master's degree in Public Policy from Harvard; worked as an investment team manager, health and data analyst, and researcher in the U.S. and overseas; and has been a research fellow in Growth and Community Development at Texas Tech's Rawls College of Business. He's currently an independent policy advisor developing private sector-driven approaches to community development and revitalization in Lubbock, his hometown.

From Bergfeld's perspective, investment in innovation and entrepreneurship is the lifeblood of the West Texas region. In part, it's what led him to become involved in the Hub's iMentor Program and NSF I-Corps programs.

"I was gone from Lubbock about ten years," he says. "When I returned more than two years ago after working in Singapore, I was impressed with how dramatically Lubbock had grown. At the same time, we were also realizing just how interdependent all the cities in our region truly are. The response to that has been real strategic thinking and synergistic relationships between leaders within the University and the city of Lubbock. It's exciting. They are thinking creatively about community engagement and how we can leverage it to create a 21st-century economy. They're asking, 'What are the steps that we need to undertake to do that?' A strong commitment to startup culture is key."

Bergfeld adds, "The Innovation Hub is a major catalyst, potentially the epicenter, for that."

Bergfeld has seen the commitment firsthand at several levels.

Building the ecosystem

He's led the City of Lubbock's ongoing process for inclusion into a private equity-focused economic development program in Texas called Opportunity Zones. He's also worked to recruit participation from the local banking community in startup and entrepreneurship development initiatives.

Through the Innovation Hub, he's been on mentor teams for several successful startups, including NemaLife, which graduated from the Texas Tech Accelerator program and the NSF I-Corps programs. Bergfeld continues to be an advisor to the company. He says, "Every couple of months or so, the CEO will reach out to me about NemaLife getting interest from major life science-focused entities that want to know about their technology. It's what in my mind ideally we hope to see: a university-based research innovation that comes into its own as a startup with significant impact."

Mentor Hustle

Bergfeld is also mentoring the Texas Tech University I-Corps team Smart Mirror, which is breaking new ground as a non-traditional research collaboration participating at the national level of the program. Smart Mirror was featured in the Hub Hustle blog earlier this month.

Bergfeld's unique vocational path began taking shape during his childhood. He says he's been strongly influenced by the many challenges his father has faced as a rural health family physician. Bergfeld's mother has been involved in healthcare, too, as a volunteer hospital chaplain for 20 years. He says that background helps him see medicine as a lens for looking at many complex issues in the world.

And it goes even deeper for Bergfeld. "My parents have always been very service-oriented in the way they think about their lives, their social world, and their careers," he says. "I was raised to think about things on a higher level and from the perspective of purpose. That's really where I derive fulfillment. I'm very thankful for that."

It's what Bergfeld says helps fuel his hustle. "Mine comes from my passion for things I'm curious about and believe in. It gives me a sense of stability and allows me to speak with confidence about what I know I need to be advocating for."