WRITER: Amanda Bradford
Arrowhead Center at New Mexico State University hosted its third Aggie Shark Tank event Wednesday at the Las Cruces Convention Center, and while the “shark” investors may have chosen not to bite on any of the business opportunities that were offered up by student and alumni entrepreneurs, they did share an ocean of advice on how they might take their ideas to the next level, along with an offer to try out one product, which may prove more valuable than an investment.
Aggie Shark Tank is based on the popular “Shark Tank” television show, and offers entrepreneurs working with Arrowhead Center’s student business incubator, Studio G, a chance to pitch their ideas for businesses or technology commercialization opportunities to local business leaders for possible investment.
The school of Las Cruces “Sharks” includes chile farmer and agribusiness leader Dino Cervantes, real estate developer Mickey Clute, Mesilla Valley Transportation owner Royal Jones, and Sisbarro Dealerships owner Lou Sisbarro.
Jones said after Wednesday’s round of business pitches that he saw a lot of passion in the entrepreneurs’ presentation, but wasn’t hooked by any of their proposals.
“They really had that fire that you need to be successful,” Jones said. “I think some of these ideas have potential in the right market, and while we didn’t choose to invest funds, we’re always ready to share some additional suggestions and guidance.”
Student entrepreneurs included Jason Koenig, one of the creators of Pixanthropy, a company that goes beyond existing crowdfunding platforms to help organizations raise money and connect to a new generation of social donors; Carlos Murguia, who is looking to bring KoolKat roof coating technology to the U.S. market; Jonah Brown of Dynitikos who wants to build a business using a new replication technology that blends 3D printing and conventional metal casting to replicate high-precision, high-quality metal pieces, such as custom jewelry and tools, with rapid turnaround times; Roberto Acosta, who hopes to open Float Spa, a therapeutic center that offers sensory deprivation therapy, which has become popular throughout the country as a way to help people relax and recharge; and Avinash Kuna, whose proprietary technology, SOLAS, brings new capabilities to the security surveillance industry to address today’s challenges and threats.
Murguia’s KoolKat roof coating technology won the $1,000 Audience Favorite prize, voted on immediately following the presentations by a crowd of 200 guests. Murguia said the prize will help him obtain an important certification for his product that will help him move to the next stage in his plan to bring the mineral roof coating product and business, based in Mexico, to the U.S. He also received an offer from Jones to try out the product at his facilities in Las Cruces.
“I’ll keep this moving, and I think the sharks offered some useful suggestions,” he said after the presentations had concluded. “I know from the questions they asked that I need to do more research here in the U.S. I’ve got to be prepared to overcome some skepticism and show that I understand the international market.”
He said one of the most valuable things he gained was the experience of preparing and delivering a pitch. “Look, my hands are still shaking,” he said, holding them up. “But now I know what to expect, and that’s important.”
Studio G Director Kramer Winingham said the process of getting a business ready for a pitch event like Shark Tank can be as important as the outcome, forcing entrepreneurs to really evaluate and fine-tune their plans.
“Studio G really serves as an extension of their team as they develop their business,” Winingham said. “We connect them with a network of mentors and a curriculum to guide their planning, but the entrepreneurs are the drivers here.”
Arrowhead Center CEO Kathy Hansen said the growth of Shark Tank shows that the community is taking a greater interest in how initiatives like Studio G and the Launch proof-of-concept program are creating a pipeline of students and alums who can apply the entrepreneurial thinking they’re cultivating at NMSU.
“This third Shark Tank event had our biggest audience yet, and it’s helping us make additional connections with people who can add value to our programs,” she said. “We’re really grateful to all of our sharks for giving their time and expertise to our student entrepreneurs.”