Feb 22, 2017 | May Ortega / Albuquerque Business First

In a first for New Mexico, an agriculture-focused startup program is coming home to roost.

New Mexico State University’s Arrowhead Center in Las Cruces is accepting applications from agriculture technology-related companies around the globe through March 10. Ten companies, regardless of their stage, location or size, will be chosen for the five-month program known as AgSprint.

Zetdi Sloan, director of Arrowhead’s Technology Incubator, said there has been a greater global need for agriculture technology — called “agtech” — recently. AgSprint was created to meet that demand, making it the 12th similar program in the country.

“There’s been a greater emphasis on ag technology around the world that can assist with bringing food to market in a much more efficient way as population continues to grow,” Sloan said. “And because of that, you’re seeing a lot of investment interest starting to pop up.”

Global investment in agriculture technology reached a historical high with $25 billion in 2015, according to Bloomberg. Goldman Sachs Group predicts the market could be worth $240 billion by 2050.

Sloan said NMSU was also receiving requests from all over the state to have an agtech-focused program. New Mexico generates $6 billion in revenue through agriculture alone, according to NMSU’s College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences. When food processing is included, that raises the number to about $11 billion.

Sloan stopped short of calling the five-month-long program an accelerator because, she said, companies who merely have a concept or who are on a much larger scale are eligible as well. AgSprint will provide participants with a curriculum, $2,000 in funding and business development assistance.

So far, more than 30 companies have applied. About a third of those applicants, Sloan said, are based outside of the United States. A dozen of them are New Mexico-based, but she added that she would like to see more in-state companies apply as well.

With funding for the initiative coming from the U.S. Economic Development Administration’s University Center Economic Development Program and from the New Mexico Gas Company, any applicants outside of the state have to be ready to give back.

“We will only select companies outside of New Mexico that will have some kind of economic benefit to the state,” Sloan said. “We hope that means either relocating and headquartering in New Mexico or establishing teams here.”

Some things Arrowhead is looking for are for-profit companies with a scalable business model and who meet the center’s technology-focused areas, which are outlined on its website.

Arrowhead has partnered with the Brackish Groundwater National Desalination Research Facility in Alamogordo, which will provide space where each company can test their products.

Each participant will also be able to pitch to the Arrowhead investment fund, possibly earning them $25,000 to $150,000.

Applications will close March 10 and AgSprint will begin March 31.