LAS CRUCES — You can have the best of plans, the best of products, the best of intentions.
But in the business world, one fact overrides quality and innovation — exposure. The reality is, if you don’t get your product, plan or business venture before the public, you’ll flop.
That was the premise behind a competition among 40 aspiring business people trying to turn ideas into reality. The group, largely from Las Cruces and El Paso, joined participants in Albuquerque and Santa Fe via Internet at the recent New Mexico Statewide Startup Weekend, billed as 54 hours of intense training for aspiring entrepreneurs.
This year, the third year Las Cruces has participated along with Albuquerque and Santa Fe, marked a change from previous years as experts from around the state and country used technology to share information among all three cities simultaneously. The event featured sessions that connected the Santa Fe Business Incubator in Santa Fe; Fat Pipe, Eipcenter & ABQid in Albuquerque; and Arrowhead Center on New Mexico State University’s campus in Las Cruces.
While none of the roughly 40 participants in Las Cruces made the final cut for the statewide prize, the winning project locally had a distinctly New Mexico flavor.
Ali Amiri, who is a last-year PHD candidate in chemical engineering at NMSU, led the team along with fellow chemical engineering PHD candidate Sahar Qavi as well as freshman chemical engineering students David Vessel and Trevan Humphrey. Together the crew successfully developed and pitched an idea that would see the brine from desalinization projects be turned into a useful material that could store thermal energy, Amiri said.
The project grew from previous work Amiri had done in developing desalinization equipment for use in remote or agricultural areas. Once the saline is removed from the water, the remaining brine is considered waste.The Brine Solutions team, which won the Las Cruces round, aims to turn that waste into profit.
“We are working on a project to benefit farmers, and this is benefiting them more,” Amiri said. “We are already targeting to help them and this is another thing … to help them get rid of the brine.”
Usually the brine from the desalinization process is either flushed back into the ocean or injected back into the ground, potentially contaminating groundwater. Instead, the brine could be used for a wide variety of heat-storing applications.
“Thermal energy storage applications (include) clothing insulation, construction insulation, solar power plants, those type of things,” Amiri said.
His prior research has yielded a unit for farmers to use biomass waste to produce irrigation water. Then he and his group started to wonder what to do with the waste brine.
That proposal netted the team $200 to help cover any business needs and, most importantly, pre-incubator status with the Arrowhead Center at NMSU for three months, roughly a $1,000 value, said Kenneth Jacobs, one of the Las Cruces organizers and facilitator for the weekend’s workshops.
“We had a lot of engineering students, a lot of heavy tech projects,” Jacobs said of the 40-or-so Las Cruces participants.
Other teams worked to pitch projects including improving how connective cables work, drones for civilian purposes, a travel app for smartphones, micro houses, a startup kitchen and cloning, Jacobs said.
While Brine Solutions took home top honors locally, the statewide winner was out of Santa Fe and pitched an idea for a program that would translate medical billing codes from confusing strings of numbers to common English.
The event itself was tiring but more than rewarding, Amiri said.
“It was awesome, extrordariny, totally different from academic speeches.”
Of his plans he said he would take advantage of the offers from Arrowhead to help him move the project forward – both his desalinization project and a way to turn the brine into salty profits.
“I’m putting both forward to marketing and patenting,” Amiri said. “I want to hang out with Arrowhead Center more to see how they can help. I think this is viable in the very near time.”
Jason Gibbs may be reached at 575-541-5451. Follow him on Twitter @fjgwriter.