Entrepreneurs in Las Cruces didn’t just face the “sharks” – people who could change their lives and the future of their business – but also a packed house at New Mexico State University’s ASNMSU Center for the Arts for the fifth annual Aggie Shark Tank. For these nervous and enthusiastic start-up owners, it was their shot to not only get potential investment, but also a moment to stand up for their dreams in front of a crowd.
More than 400 people attended the event ready to cheer on the participants who had businesses and products to showcase. There was a new way to dispense and track opioids, fresh methods in cryptology, a product to help sleep apnea, an app to get rid of the ever-encroaching spam call to cell phones, and a better way to get the best abs.
Aggie Shark Tank, sponsored by the Hunt Center for Entrepreneurship, allows student and alumni entrepreneurs to pitch their business ideas to local and national sharks for the chance to gain investment or other assistance to help their business grow. The sharks are local investors and nationwide venture capitalists who are not only happy to seek out the right deals, but also to give a unique window into their industries from their experiences in business.
“Arrowhead keeps delivering formidable pitch participants. Every year, the level of innovation, product-market fit, and potential for funding increases. If you prepare, you too can face the sharks,” said Beto Pallares, one of the guest sharks and fund manager of Arrowhead Innovation Fund.
Pallares was on stage with Samara Mejia Hernandez, founding partner of Chingona Ventures; Lou Sisbarro, co-founder of Sisbarro Dealerships; and Jason Torres, a healthcare angel investor.
It wasn’t just the sharks who got their say. The audience did as well, with a chance to vote for their favorite. Daniel Martinez won the Crowd Favorite Award for Omnos Sleep, a device to help with people diagnosed with sleep apnea. He received $1,000 thanks to Citizens Bank of Las Cruces.
While some deals were negotiated on stage, some of the funding was contingent on due diligence of both the shark and the presenter, and on measured goals that the sharks were able to set for the company or product.
This was the case with Project Vita Health, which proposed a solution to the opioid crisis. Their device offers a means to dispense opioids in a trackable and safe way but lacked connections with insurance companies that might be the ideal market. Torres suggested making connections there before the business might move forward. For owner and presenter Pascual Camacho, Aggie Shark Tank was a culmination of work at NMSU and with Arrowhead Center.
“Presenting at the Aggie Shark Tank has been one of the most rewarding experiences in my life. Through an arduous process that took three months, I talked to multiple NMSU and external advisors and held weekly meetings with them, allowing me to improve my pitch and slide deck,” Camacho said. “I had never presented to such a big audience and this was certainly intimidating. While I was backstage waiting for my turn, I had a weird mixture of feelings, a sense of calm and confidence, but also could feel as nervous as I have ever been. The first few minutes on stage was the hardest to go through, but afterwards, I felt much more comfortable with myself.”
It’s moments like these that Arrowhead Center fosters through its events, its advisor network and its entrepreneur accelerators that makes sure that their presenters can swim in the deep waters of industry.
“Aggie Shark Tank has placed itself as a way for the community to see what innovative talent is right here in southern New Mexico,” said Carlos Murguia, Arrowhead Center’s Shark Tank manager. “It’s an event unlike any other and provides an opportunity for young entrepreneurs to showcase their talents not only to sharks, but to others in the crowd who may see themselves as someone with an idea on that stage in the future.”