June 14, 2016 by Lauren Goldstein, NMSU News Center
Luke Smith, founder of EcoSeal, was recently recognized as a 2015 success story at the New Mexico Small Business Assistance Innovation Celebration. The event, co-hosted by New Mexico Angels and NMSBA, took place in Albuquerque during the New Mexico Angels quarterly members’ meeting.
Luke Smith’s podcast about EcoSeal is available on Arrowhead’s podcast channel at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=78Q4KH9ob_g
The NMSBA Program allows New Mexico small businesses facing a technical challenge to access the unique expertise and capabilities of Los Alamos and Sandia National Laboratories and identified contractors. As a contractor, Arrowhead Center brings the unique resources of New Mexico State University through faculty and staff to assist in a variety of technical and/or business challenges.
Smith graduated from NMSU in December 2015 with his master’s degree in accountancy. While in school, Luke started his own business, EcoSeal, based on the commercialization of NMX, an essential oil-based organic biopesticide developed at NMSU. Before licensing and as part of the research and development stages of the technology, NMX had been demonstrated as effective on a variety of plants.
When Smith requested assistance from the NMSBA, no testing had been performed on golf course turf grasses. Therefore, he requested assistance to perform validation and efficacy tests for field screening of the NMX biopesticide on turf grasses. This very specific use was identified as a market opportunity, which allowed Smith to successfully commercialize the technology.
“The NMSBA assistance that my company received has been a huge help. Along with the invaluable technical assistance, the program put me in contact with experts that have continued to be key assets to EcoSeal,” Smith said.
During the spring and summer of 2015, Ryan Goss, a professor in the NMSU College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, led the effort to evaluate and expand research on NMX. Goss manages the Turfgrass Research Program, which focuses on various research projects to minimize turfgrass water use. Goss and Smith developed a valuable and ongoing working relationship.
In fall of 2015, Smith was awarded a $50,000 grant through the NSF I-Corps program to identify markets and marketability of the NMX product. I-Corps, or Innovation Corps, is a National Science Foundation initiative that enables an entrepreneur to lead the efforts of market research from a technology developed through NSF funds. An entrepreneurial lead, a research lead and a mentor complete the NSF I-Corps team. Smith was the entrepreneurial lead, Goss was the research lead, and Kramer Winingham, director of Studio G at Arrowhead Center, served as mentor. Through this funding, Smith was able to interview more than 100 potential clients or partners for the company. This grant also allowed for the purchase of materials for further research of the product in other plants and under different conditions.
The NMSBA program at NMSU’s Arrowhead Center is comprised of full-time program manager Griselda Martinez and students with interdisciplinary backgrounds. Students include Sri Harsh Pakala, a doctoral candidate in electrical engineering; Lizeth Rivera, a recent graduate with a master’s degree in economics; and Carlos Murguia, a master’s student in industrial engineering. Subject matter experts are invited to participate as technical experts based on the needs of participating small businesses.
“The opportunities that EcoSeal has identified for this technology are very promising. We are honored to be part of the support system to encourage entrepreneurs continue to pursue their efforts,” Martinez said.