Entrepreneurial orbit: Businesses at heart of resource expo


Once a business gets its foot in the door with an economic development organization like the New Mexico Manufacturing Extension Partnership, its opportunities for growth expand dramatically.

Jack Kloepfer discovered this while navigating his Aztec business beyond the line of outdoor recreation products he built from thermoplastic-coated fabrics and into products for energy and aerospace industries. The company's relationship with New Mexico MEP has led to others, including the New Mexico Small Business Assistance Program, the Small Business Development Center at San Juan College in Farmington and the New Mexico Economic Development Department, where Jack's Plastic Welding CEO Errol Baade hopes to find capital to expand production space.

Another company that found a leg up with the help of MEP and NMSBA is Taos Mountain Energy Bars based in Questa.

Entrepreneurs can explore this resource universe at the New Mexico Innovation Expo Thursday (April 19) in Albuquerque. Hosted by the NMSBA program and New Mexico MEP, the event introduces inventors and innovators to New Mexico resources.

Created by the state Legislature in 2000, NMSBA underwrites up to $20,000 in technical assistance at no cost to small businesses outside Bernalillo County (and up to $10,000 if they are in Bernalillo County). NMSBA partners with educational and government entities, including the University of New Mexico's engineering program and school of management and New Mexico State University's Arrowhead Center business accelerator. It connects business owners with national laboratory scientists, who can help them overcome technical obstacles, and it collaborates with New Mexico MEP to provide quality and lean manufacturing training.

Expanding horizons

In 2009, longtime friends Kyle Hawari and Brooks Thostenson moved to Taos to enjoy the outdoor life before setting off on their careers. While skiing the slopes, the two mused about starting a business together.

They heard about the community kitchen at the Taos County Economic Development Center. As self-described ski bums, Hawari and Thostenson hit upon developing a high-quality energy bar.

Taos Mountain Energy Bars are quick and nutritious snacks for those who live for the outdoors. From their first sales in New Mexico, distribution of the bars expanded throughout the United States.

As the demand for these bars escalated, Hawari and Thostenson found themselves overwhelmed. They turned to NMSBA for help streamlining the company's production processes.

NMSBA paired Taos Mountain Energy Foods with New Mexico MEP. Cathy Musgrave and her team assessed the company's problem.

New Mexico MEP helped the company reduce cooking times, automate manual processes and improve ways the product flowed from customer order to customer receipt and order fulfillment.

Taos Mountain Energy Foods realized $120,000 in cost savings by applying the techniques. Such savings, along with a Los Alamos Venture Acceleration Fund award, enabled the company to expand its business to a 10,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Questa. The company employs 17 people.

In the far western part of New Mexico in 1980, Jack's Plastic started fabricating whitewater rafts, dry bags and waterproof mattresses. It grew from that niche by using its rugged fabrics to build emergency spill containers and pipe plugs for the oil and gas industry. Recent aerospace contracts have resulted in the company supplying collars for the SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket that launched in February at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Kloepfer and Baade worked with New Mexico MEP through the NMSBA program to improve the company's training and administrative processes and broaden its product base, according to Denise Williams Monaghan, MEP's Northwest region innovation director. These services helped the company increase sales by $70,000, retain a valuable customer base, create or retain 11 jobs and save more than $183,000, Monaghan said.

"Having MEP working with the crew to implement ideas that they already have, or just to get those ideas on the conscious level, is like bringing more brainpower into the system," Kloepfer said of the working relationship. "When we all think about how to make it better, and we have the license to do that, things get better for everyone and it becomes a happier and more productive workplace."

Resource fair

The Innovation Expo features a resource fair where business owners can engage with resource providers and network with other small business; a"Eureka Effect" session, where entrepreneurs can meet one-on-one (pre-arranged through event registration) with a Sandia or LANL scientist; a reception for networking; and a celebration of the 2017 NMSBA success story participants.

The event is 2 to 6 p.m. April 19, at Lobo Rainforest, 101 Broadway Blvd. NE, Albuquerque. Register at: nminnovationexpo.splashthat.com.

For more information about NMSBA, visit nmsbaprogram.org. To learn about New Mexico MEP, visit newmexicomep.org.

Finance New Mexico connects individuals and businesses with skills and funding resources for their business or idea. To learn more, go to FinanceNewMexico.org.