Into the Shark Tank: Aggies pitch ideas to area investors

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Into the Shark Tank: Aggies pitch ideas to area investors

LAS CRUCES – Carlos Murguia, pitching his business idea to a room of possible investors, cut to the chase.

“What are we here for today? To make money, so let’s get started!” the New Mexico State University student and entrepreneur said before his five-minute presentation to a panel of Las Cruces “shark” investors in hopes of gaining funding and other business support. The exchange came during the Aggie Shark Tank event, held Oct. 19 before a large and enthusiastic crowd at the Las Cruces Convention Center.

Murguia was one of five NMSU students who pitched their business dreams to the sharks — agribusiness leader Dino Cervantes, real estate developer Mickey Clute, Mesilla Valley Trucking owner Royal Jones, and Sisbarro Dealerships owner Lou Sisbarro.

After the pitch, the sharks ask the entrepreneurs a range of hard-hitting questions touching on financial forecasts, product development, customer base, competition and market opportunities. In addition to the opportunity to gain investment from shark panelists, the entrepreneurs also had a chance to win $1,000 prize based on audience vote for the best pitch.

Contestants included:
  • Murguia, pitching KoolKat, a mineral-based roof coating that can reduce temperatures inside a building to produce substantial energy savings
  • Jason Koenig, seeking funding and mentorship for Pixanthropy, a software platform that facilitates philanthropic giving by connecting to a new generation of social donors
  • Jonah Brown, seeking funding for his business Dynitikos, a rapid turn-around replication-technology service for high-precision, high-quality metal pieces for jewelers
  • Roberto Acosta, seeking funding for equipment to open Float Spa, a new business offering therapeutic sensory deprivation therapy to help people relax and recharge
  • Avinash Kuna and his business SOLAS, a startup developing new, more advanced proprietary technology to the security surveillance industry.

Kramer Winingham, director of Studio G, said the five entrepreneurs were chosen out of 25 applicants.

“Aggie Shark Tank is open to all NMSU students,” he said. “Once we receive the applications, we review them to identify business plans that have advanced to an appropriate stage to request funding and are also a match to the investors’ interests.”

Once they’re chosen, the entrepreneurs go through four or five practice sessions to refine their pitch with the Studio G team and also receive feedback from mentors in the Arrowhead Innovation Network. “We want to give them the best chance to raise the money they need to advance their business,” Winingham said.

Murguia won the $1,000 Audience Favorite prize and an offer from Jones to test his roof coating product on one of his properties. The investors did not commit funds to any of the entrepreneurs in this event, but they did offer to mentor them as they continued to shape their business plans.

“We strive to be good mentors,” Cervantes said, “but part of that is addressing any deficiencies in their plans.” Most of the participants take the constructive feedback well, he added.

“I think there were around 10 people at the first event,” Cervantes said. This time, an audience of 200 onlookers was on hand to cheer on the entrepreneurs.

The Aggie Shark Tank was born out of an idea by Sisbarro, a fan of the popular “Shark Tank” TV show series. Sisbarro approached Kathy Hansen, Arrowhead Center CEO, with the idea to create a similar program to help NMSU students. Sisbarro asked other investors to participate and worked with Hansen’s team at the Arrowhead Center to shape the event.

Cervantes said he and the other panelists have worked with several of the entrepreneurs since the first Aggie Shark Tank took place. In last spring’s event, investors committed $80,000 with some portion going to all five businesses.

“We’ve seen some interesting projects and we’ve stayed in touch with several of the entrepreneurs,” he said. “Many of them typically take a year or more to go to market so we’re just starting to see some results.”

Entrepreneurs said they were appreciative of the opportunity to participate in the Aggie Shark Tank.

“It was great to be around the other contestants,” Brown said. “They’re the shakers and movers of the community, and their energy is exciting.”

Brown is a freshman at NMSU, a young entrepreneur with prior experience including a bike shop in Elephant Butte, graphic design, and some experience in jewelry making.

Murguia said he spent five to six hours a day in preparation for three weeks before the event. He felt the coaching he received from Studio G was invaluable.

“I liked the learning process. I can tell you that the presentation I did today is nothing like the presentation I started with,” he said. “Now that I’ve done this, I know I can get up and present my company to anyone.”

All Aggie Shark Tank events are free and open to the public. More information about past Shark Tanks and contestants can be found at sharktank.nmsu.edu. The next event is tentatively scheduled to take place in March 2017. Anyone interested in learning more should contact Kristin Morehead 575-646-5575 or email kmorehea@nmsu.edu.

Paula Heikell is a freelance writer and can be reached atpaula@heikellcommunications.com.