Entrepreneurial spirit, technologies on display at UTEP
By Vic Kolenc / El Paso Times
A UTEP team’s grand dream of producing a flying car, a father and son start-up selling apps to track down lost or stolen phones, and Chihuahua students’ simple vision of a desert shrimp farm were part of the entrepreneurial spirit displayed Thursday at El Paso’s second venture expo.
Other ventures included technologies to treat diseases and make paper-thin solar panels.
Nineteen start-up companies and 20 college teams were represented at the expo in the Camino Real Hotel’s ballroom. It launched the sixth annual Paso del Norte Venture Competition, which ends Saturday when winners of the student and professional divisions are picked at the University of Texas at El Paso.
The events were organized by The Hub of Human Innovation, an El Paso high-tech incubator, UTEP, New Mexico State University, and Monterrey Tech’s campus in Juarez.
The expo, which included afternoon sessions where start-up companies made pitches to investors and judges, had the feel of a school science fair mixed with doses of TV’s “Shark Tank.”
“We were in the student competition last year and were told our idea would never go forward,” said Leon Viveros, 32, a partner in 35 Solar, a startup based at New Mexico State University’s Arrowhead Center, a venture incubator where he also is a staff member. “But we were able to raise money and make our first prototype” — a tiny solar panel, which he held in the palm of his hand.
Kramer Winningham, 35 Solar’s chief executive officer, said his company raised $15,201 on Kickstart, a crowd-funding Web site, by giving Hatch chile powder as a reward for making a donation. The startup is aimed at using thin-film technology to produce thin solar panels at low costs.
El Paso businessman Stephen Myers and his tech-savvy son, Matt, 35, developed DataGNS, a software application that can be placed on a cell phone or other mobile device that tracks the device, and can remotely erase all personal data in it if needed. The app is on the Google Play store now.
Robert Cottingham, a partner in the Myers’ start-up, NewSource Electronic Solutions, and its acting CEO, said their business model is to become the “ADT of recovering phones.” ADT is a giant home and business security company.
Leonardo Orea, 22, a mechanical engineering student at the University of Texas at El Paso, 18 months ago began working on his dream of producing a flying car. That idea turned into Lilienthal, a UTEP team competing for the $10,000 first-place prize and a shot at going to a global venture competition in Austin in May.
“People have been trying to come up with a flying car for over 100 years,” and no one has been successful, Orea said. One problem is the car usually looks more like an airplane than a car, he said.
His design has winglets that retract while the car is on the ground, and it uses NASA-researched aerodynamics to make the car easier to lift into the air with the help of an on-board compressor, he said. Win or lose, Orea said his team hopes it can interest investors into giving them $20,000 to do their “proof of concept” work.
Jeffrey Max Jones, a Mexican businessman, former Chihuahua senator, and a judge for the professional division of the competition, said the expo and venture competition are part of the innovation efforts needed to create companies that will create jobs needed in this area.
“More value is added in creating businesses” rather than just trying to attract businesses here, he said.
Webb Johnson, a representative for the Verge Fund, an Albuquerque investment fund, said he was impressed by the presentations at the expo. The fund is always looking for interesting ventures to invest in, he said.
Jorge Garza-Ulloa, 61, who recently received his doctorate in electrical and computer engineering at UTEP, hoped to convince investors at the expo to help fund further development of his software to detect muscle fatigue. That can be used to make diabetes treatment more effective, he said. The software came out of his doctoral research at UTEP.
For the Desert Shrimps team from Universidad Tecnologica de Chihuahua, their idea is to feed some of the salty soil found in Jimenez, Chihuahua into special tanks to grow organic shrimp. They estimate $50,000 is needed to start the venture.
Vic Kolenc may be reached at 915-546-6421.