The Team

John Chavez, Managing Director

Mr. Chavez currently serves as the Managing Director for the New Mexico Start-Up Factory I, II and III. He was the President of New Mexico Angels for over 12 years and has been an active investor for over 15 years. Under his leadership, the NM Angels had an increase of over 100% funding of investment deals in new companies. The Angels were often leading investment deals, rather than following venture capitals into them. John is also the Managing Partner of Phase One Ventures and a Partner of NMA Ventures, a forward thinking fund that is backed by the New Mexico Catalyst Fund.

Mr. Chavez has been an integral part of New Mexico’s economic development ecosystem.  He is responsible for creating technology showcase forums that have allowed Angel technology partners like Los Alamos National Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratories, the University of New Mexico and New Mexico State University to have the opportunity of presenting technologies available for licensing to Angel members, Venture Capitalists and guests.

In addition to funding new companies, John is an avid entrepreneur. In 2012, he co-founded the New Mexico Start-Up Factory I and successfully launched 5 companies. Today, the Start-Up Factory now has 3 portfolios and has created 13 companies all based in New Mexico.

Mr. Chavez is also the President of Tafoya & Brainerd Consultants where he helps companies, organizations and entrepreneurs with business development, financial management, operational structure, investment opportunity and progressive execution.  He serves on several Boards as a member and leads several organizations as the Chair.  

Prior to his involvement with the New Mexico Angels and the New Mexico Start-Up Factory, Mr. Chavez was appointed to serve as the Cabinet Secretary of the Taxation and Revenue Department for State of New Mexico by Governor Gary Johnson. Mr. Chavez held the role of Cabinet Secretary for six years and was also named the President of the Federation of Taxation Administrators for one year. John has a BA in Economics, BBA in Finance and MBA in Regulatory Economics from New Mexico State University.

Melissa Firestone, Company Creation Specialist

Melissa joined the New Mexico Start-Up Factory in the summer of 2021 and currently serves as the Company Creation Specialist. While working closely with John and Andrea, she assists in the creation of investible companies and in the commercialization of promising innovations.

Firestone values entrepreneurship and the creation of local companies as paramount in developing a sustainable economy. As a former small business owner and public education teacher, she knows the value of smart business development, marketing, community outreach, educational initiatives, and a personal work ethic. 

As a New Mexico native, Melissa knows the importance of giving back to the local community. When asked to join the team at The New Mexico Start-Up Factory, she saw it as the perfect opportunity to use her background in marketing and company development to promote job creation within the local economy. Firestone thrives on her ability to usher technologies from idea to industry within the organization’s business model while developing a strong internal team and building out marketing initiatives.

Melissa earned a B.A. in Fine Art from the University of Colorado and later obtained her Teacher Licensure from Fort Lewis College in Durango, CO. Firestone and her husband are thrilled to be living in The Land of Enchantment.  When she is not working at the New Mexico Start-Up Factory, you can find her teaching yoga at various studios around Albuquerque. She can also be found running, biking, hiking, and sometimes climbing rocks. 

Sofia Ortiz, Project Manager

Sofia recently joined the New Mexico Start-Up Factory as the organization’s Project Manager. She assists the NMSUF team through her organizational leadership skills and close attention to detail.  Sofia is responsible for ensuring that each milestone is met on awarded grants and helps the team with timeline performance.  Sofia’s primary focus is on the execution of the NIH ASCEND2.0 grant which was awarded to the New Mexico Start-Up Factory in 2022.  The purpose of this grant is to increase entrepreneurship and commercialization of basic medical science in the mountain western iDeA states (  

Sofia recently graduated at the top of her class from Northern Arizona University with a Bachelors of Science Degree in Psychological Sciences, with a concentration in Personality/Social Psychology.  During her academic journey, Sofia showcased her leadership abilities by serving as the Panhellenic Delegate and Executive Board Member for the Delta Lambda chapter of Chi Omega Fraternity.  Additionally, her role as Vice President of Judicial within the Northern Arizona University’s College Panhellenic Council further honed her leadership skills. Sofia’s commitment to academic excellence led her to membership in both The Blue Key Honor Society and The National Society of Leadership and Success. 

Sofia’s skill set includes strong communication and problem-solving abilities, diligentattention to detail, and a strong aptitude for intellectual property (IP).   Her priorexperience as a Business Development & Licensing Intern at Ortiz & Lopez, PLLC, provided her the opportunity to contribute to patent evaluations, marketing, and IP monetization.  Sofia is also a co-inventor on several patents in the wireless application space that have been successfully monetized (sold or licensed). Her first patent was issued while she was in junior high school. 

Sofia also served as a Marketing Intern at Northwestern University’s Innovation and New Ventures Office which allowed her to showcase her talent for conducting technical database searches and organizing critical technical references. With her well-rounded education, leadership roles, and skill sets, Sofia is well-equipped to thrive as the Project Manager with the New Mexico Start-Up Factory, ensuring the successful execution of projects and initiatives. 

Outside of her professional endeavors, Sofia is an avid outdoor enthusiast who finds comfort in hiking through nature’s beauty. Her love for exploration extends beyond the trails, as she has a passion for traveling and experiencing diverse cultures. Sofia’s heart belongs to her family, and she cherishes quality time with loved ones. Her genuine curiosity about people from various backgrounds fuels her desire to connect with individuals from all walks of life, contributing to various experiences and perspectives.

Alicia Montoya, Internal Project Manager

Alicia works with Start-Up Factory™ as an internal project manager. She assists the NMSUF team and scientist/entrepreneurs for the newly created startup companies so the can thrive and stay on track. Alicia’s skillset includes organizing resources, establishing priorities, communicating directives, coordinating events, developing programs and performing outreach on be half of the organization.

Alicia has extensive experience at developing and maintaining schedules, incorporating contingencies into planning to ensure projects are ready to be implemented and strategies incorporated for circumventing any unexpected problems.  She is adept at understanding that one stage of a project often relies on another stage meeting its deadline or maintaining its schedule. Alicia is a long term planner of projects with knowledge and experience on how to best allocate resources in order to accomplish milestones. Her primary goal to maintain a foundation that allows the New Mexico Start-Up Factory to grow and excel in its mission.

Alicia holds a Masters Degree in Public Administration from the University of New Mexico. She is the mother of three amazing children and in her free time, enjoys reading, hiking, traveling and organizing any and all things.