May 25, 2016 by Lauren Goldstein, NMSU News Center
Three teams won money and support during this year’s Launch competition hosted by Arrowhead Center at New Mexico State University.
On April 28, Launch finalists competed for a $25,000 equity investment award to accelerate their game-changing technologies. The Launch finals competition, now in its fifth year, had not previously been open to the public. In addition to the sizable grand award, there was a crowd favorite prize of $1,000 and a social media favorite prize of $500, which resulted from a new initiative to push out Launch technologies through a social media campaign.
Launch is a Proof of Concept Center, a program to accelerate the commercialization of technologies developed at NMSU by faculty, staff and students. This round started with participation of 10 top-tier finalists selected from an initial applicant pool. After completion of a three-month spring program, four teams that met all milestones appeared in the final competition. Shanta Thoutam, Launch competition director, and Terry Lombard, director of Intellectual Property and Technology Transfer at Arrowhead Center, coordinated Launch.
“These are success stories,” said Lombard as she welcomed the crowd at last month’s competition.
Launch finalists presented in front of a panel of judges including Kevin Robinson-Avila from the Albuquerque Journal; Mathis Shinnick, an investor and senior management executive with a focus on biotechnology; Robert Herrera, a venture capitalist and Arrowhead Center adviser; and Jason Koenig, former director of Commercialization and Entrepreneurship at Arrowhead Center. Unlike Arrowhead Center’s Shark Tank event, judges did not invest their own money in the technologies.
The team LIBS in the Field clinched the crowd favorite prize of $1,000 and the social media campaign prize of $500. The MAESTRO team secured the $25,000 equity investment award, which they will use to form a company to re-brand and license the MAESTRO system to serve universities worldwide. Two teams, Niekaab and LIBS in the Field, will participate in this summer’s National Science Foundation and Aggie I-Corps programs, respectively, through Arrowhead Center.
Catherine Brewer, an assistant professor in the Chemical and Materials Engineering department at NMSU’s College of Engineering, and her doctoral student Ali Amiri were the first to present at this year’s Launch finals event. Brewer and Amiri developed a small scale, low-temperature, multiple-effect distillation system for brackish groundwater. Their system is designed to desalinate brakish water using biomass and produce biochar by-product. Brewer and Amiri plan to form a company, Niekaab (“good water” in Farsi), to license the technology that is applicable to small farms and smaller square footage areas than traditional desalination systems.
“Customer discovery can never happen too early and you have to protect intellectual property, and demonstrate that the technology works,” Brewer told judges in response to a question about what her team learned by participating in Launch.
Ed Zenisek, co-creator of MAESTRO, delivered a passionate presentation and highlighted his team of NMSU employee co-founders with 60 years of combined IT experience. Zenisek said MAESTRO saved NMSU $250,000 by streamlining a human subjects research compliance review system that once involved thousands of reams of paper and a chain of desk-passing. The system, developed by users with integrated feedback, can be adapted to other university compliance requirement and needs. MAESTRO is NMSU-owned, so the team proposed to use the Launch award to license the software from NMSU and provide service to other universities under a new name and branding.
Nancy McMillan, head of the Geological Sciences department at NMSU’s College of Arts and Sciences, engaged the audience with LIBS in the Field, a technology used to analyze spots of elements from the entire periodic table as small as 50 microns, the width of a human hair. Additional applications included analysis of contaminated water to quickly identify the source of specific contaminants. The illuminator fills an industry need for accurate, lightweight laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy. David Cremers, co-inventor of LIBS technology, Rosalie Multari and Ann Nelson at Creative LIBS partnered with McMillan and her student Sean Goudy on the technology.
Launch will open its application process again in August. Anyone interested in Launch or other related opportunities is asked to contact Terry Lombard at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Information on Arrowhead Center and its suite of programs is available at arrowheadcenter.nmsu.edu.