WRITER: Amanda Bradford
They’re circling. Four greats of the Las Cruces business community are lurking on campus, ready to sink their teeth into promising entrepreneurial ideas from New Mexico State University students. And on Oct. 23, the university’s entrepreneurship engine, Arrowhead Center, will chum the waters with presentations from some of its top clients who are ready to take the plunge.
Cue the “Jaws” theme: Duh-nuh.
It’s all part of “Aggie Shark Tank,” a new initiative based on the popular “Shark Tank” television series, in which aspiring entrepreneurs present their ideas to a panel of business experts for feedback and potential investment.
The current 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. Organizers have announced the addition of a visiting “mystery shark” whose identity will be revealed at the event.
It was Sisbarro who brought the idea of “Aggie Shark Tank” to Arrowhead Center, as another way he and other business owners could invest their time, knowledge – and perhaps some funding – in support of entrepreneurial students.
“I’m fascinated by the entrepreneurship program here at NMSU,” Sisbarro said. “We can help these students as mentors and give them direction and leadership. This is all about helping them succeed.”
The Oct. 23 event, which takes place from 2 to 5 p.m. at the Yates Theatre in Domenici Hall on campus, is open to the public. Aggie Shark Tank events in May and August gave the sharks the opportunity to try out the concept and get a look at some of the ideas being developed through Studio G, Arrowhead’s student business incubator.
Competitors at the event will include NMSU students and recent alumni pitching products with applications in the automotive, health care, restaurant, social media and wine industries.
Brooke Higginbotham, a genetics and biotechnology master’s student, was selected as the “Shark Favorite” during the August event for her biomedical technology design. Higginbotham says she learned a lot from talking with the sharks and watching the other presenters talk about their ideas.
“I made a lot of good connections,” Higginbotham said. “The sharks asked great questions. The whole experience of working with Arrowhead Center on this has been great from the beginning.”
In addition to any investment offers the entrepreneurs might receive, two cash prizes will be awarded – $1,000 for the audience favorite and $2,500 for the shark favorite.
“Our sharks really have the opportunity to contribute directly to the success of these businesses,” said Kathy Hansen, Arrowhead Center’s director. “The experience, expertise and feel for markets that they have is so valuable to Arrowhead clients working on entrepreneurial ventures.”
“This is fun!” Sisbarro added. “We are enjoying this, and I think we can make this something big.”
For more information and to register to attend, visit sharktank.nmsu.edu.