LAS CRUCES – Sure, mixing cow manure, food scrap and agricultural field waste together sounds like a great idea. But is there any money in it?
As it turns out, yes.
But Bob Hockaday would not have known for sure his idea to churn the messy mix and harvest the result for fuel and fertilizer would work without the assistance of New Mexico State University’s Arrowhead Center. Among the programs Arrowhead offers entrepreneurial ideas to bring to market is one supported in part by the U.S. Economic Development Administration University Center for Regional Commercialization. The free program requires four to six hours of collaboration with the research team, then turnds them loose to do the work. Participants in other areas of the state don’t even have to leave their office. All communication can be handled over the phone and through an online portal.
People with ideas for a potential business can get help in determining the viability of their plan, said Zedti Sloan, director of the Arrowhead Technology Incubator. Startups, businesses that want to expand and governmental organizations from throughout New Mexico can apply to receive help with researching their venture, preparing environmental impact statements, addressing financial planning and entrepreneurial training. Two areas, market intelligence and financial intelligence services, are offered to help the entrepreneur make a faster decision based on hard data.
“We recognize there is a need for very targeted assistance for specific goals entrepreneurs are pursuing,” Sloan said. The information from Arrowhead provides “a better understanding of customers and capital-raising activities.”
Participants can request specific financial intelligence services, like estimating startup costs, preparing financial forecasts, estimating the company’s value and developing pitch presentations. Market intelligence services include determining where a company should devote more resources, which markets are profitable, shopping patterns and what demographic segments the company could hope to attract.
In essence, the program is answering questions as to whether an idea that seems brilliant to the entrepreneur will have any value and make a successful business in the real world. The information gathered by Arrowhead on the business’ behalf can also be helpful, even necessary, in applying for funding.
“We asked ‘If we make this fuel, who will buy it and what price will they buy it at? Is the business plan technically feasible? Can we put this all together and come up with a workable plan?'”
After going through the process, Hockaday was able to apply for a secured loan through the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Most recently, he landed $86,000 in Local Economic Development Act dollars from the state and the city of Tucumcari. The money funded the purchase of a defunct ethanol plant, which he plans to outfit to refine biofuels from the messy mix mentioned above.
Hockaday, who holds several patents, says he is “in the inventing business” and has created many devices related to energy generation and consumption. He is the president of Energy Related Devices, Inc., which he founded in 1994. With his business partner, Tucumcari farmer Robert Lopez, he hopes to reinvigorate the abandoned fuel plant to address not only the need for biofuels that don’t take corn and grain out of the food chain, but also to tackle the problem of animal waste from feedlots and dairy farms that dot eastern New Mexico and the Rio Grande Valley.
The ethanol plant came equipped with six 45,000-gallon mixing tanks that could produce three million gallons of ethanol a year. And, Hockaday found, that mix of manure, food waste and field waste – such as corn stalks or other material that would normally be left to be turned into the soil – was a perfect mix to produce biofuels. The resultant waste, the remains of corn stalks, manure and food, comes out as a perfect fertilizer, he said.
“We’re taking the garbage, breaking it down and harvesting” biofuels, Hockaday said. “We are replacing the grain feed (currently) used to make ethanol.”
He said there is great potential to replicate the biofuel production plant at closed ehtanol plants that dot the Midwest. He hopes to grow the business by adding a greenhouse for aquaponics and aquaculture.
“We have water, fertilizer and a source of heat,” he said. “We want to encourage a greenhouse grower.”
But realizing his goal would not have gotten as far as quickly without the work of the Arrowhead Center, he said.
“This is a complex plan and I said ‘I need help.’ If you can make money at it, it can reproduce. If it’s not viable, it’s not going to keep going.”
To apply to Arrowhead Technology Incubator or for information, visit arrowheadcenter.nmsu.edu/ati.
Jason Gibbs may be reached at (575) 541-5451 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @fjgwriter.