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New Mexico small businesses prosper with technical help

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Posted September 30, 2015

Ski bums need fuel to schuss down mountains day in and day out. Their go-to snack is an energy bar, a backpack staple. “We need something that is quick, healthy, sustaining and cheap,” said Kyle Hawari of Taos, New Mexico.

Taos Mountain Energy Foods founders Kyle Hawari, left, and Brooks Thostenson weren’t prepared for the success of their organic power bars. The self-described ski bums got help from the New Mexico Small Business Assistance program on the road to building a nationwide business. (Photo by Sandra Valdez)

Taos Mountain Energy Foods founders Kyle Hawari, left, and Brooks Thostenson weren’t prepared for the success of their organic power bars. The self-described ski bums got help from the New Mexico Small Business Assistance program on the road to building a nationwide business. (Photo by Sandra Valdez)

But taste matters too. “We humans crave something that is enjoyable to eat,” Hawari said. “Simply put, we wanted something healthy that delivered in the taste department.”

Hawari said the bars he tried weren’t so good. “We saw the same tired flavors, bad textures and poor ingredients over and over again,” he said.

Hawari and his longtime friend and fellow outdoorsman, Brooks Thostenson, thought they could do better. In 2010, they set out to craft a line of artisan energy bars using premium, organic ingredients. “There’s a legend in Taos that if the mountain calls you there to make art, you have little choice but to surrender,” he said. “Well, we heard it calling.”

Hawari and Thostenson founded Taos Mountain Energy Foods LLC using the community kitchen at the Taos Food Center. Their first sales were in New Mexico but distribution quickly expanded throughout the United States. Hawari and Thostenson were overwhelmed getting bars to customers while putting in long days and nights in the kitchen.

They turned to the New Mexico Small Business Assistance (NMSBA) program for help and were paired with the New Mexico Manufacturing Extension Partnership, which contracts with the NMSBA program at Sandia National Laboratories. It helped the company reduce cooking times, automate manual processes and improve how products flowed from customer order to delivery.

Taos Mountain Energy Foods cut costs by $120,000 and, with a Los Alamos Venture Acceleration Fund award, expanded to a 10,000-square-foot manufacturing center in Questa, New Mexico. The company employs 17 people.

“NMSBA helped me tap into high-level resources and expertise,” Hawari said. “Our company has grown into a national outdoor lifestyle brand. I couldn’t be happier with how it all panned out.”

Millions of dollars’ worth of expertise provided to NM businesses

Taos Mountain Energy Foods was among 352 small businesses in 31 counties that participated during 2014 in NMSBA, a public-private partnership among Sandia National Laboratories, Los Alamos National Laboratory and the state of New Mexico that connects small business owners with scientists and engineers who provide technical assistance. The program contracts with the New Mexico Manufacturing Extension Partnership, University of New Mexico Management of Technology program at the Anderson School of Management, Arrowhead Center at New Mexico State University and the New Mexico Tech Department of Management. NMSBA provided $4.7 million worth of assistance to New Mexico small businesses last year.

Ten projects that achieved outstanding innovations through the program in 2014 were honored in a series of six events held throughout New Mexico from May to August. Taos Mountain Energy Foods received the Honorable Speaker Ben Luján Award for Small Business Excellence for demonstrating the greatest economic impact. The award was presented by the late New Mexico House speaker’s son, U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M.

“NMSBA is a partnership that generates jobs and economic wealth in our state. It has created and retained more than 4,000 jobs,” said Jackie Kerby Moore, Sandia’s manager of Technology and Economic Development. “We are grateful to both the small businesses and the Labs’ principal investigators who are working together to implement innovative ideas and stimulate our state’s economy. NMSBA is a powerful tool that fosters that collaboration.”

NMSBA events brought personal touch to NM communities                    

The six NMSBA events brought together small businesses, local economic development representatives, elected officials and community leaders. Past NMSBA participants shared their experiences and laboratory project managers were on hand to answer questions.

“Instead of a single awards ceremony, we decided to do it differently this year and take the event on the road,” Kerby Moore said. “We wanted to celebrate with the businesses in their back yards with their community leaders. It was more personal.”

In addition to Taos Mountain Energy Foods, here are the NMSBA projects that stood out in 2014:

  • Fundamentalist Flowerchild Productions, a Mimbres Valley film animation company.
  • KemKey LLC, which makes transfer fittings for the chemical industry. The Edgewood company worked with Sandia mechanical engineer Juan Romero on three-dimensional modeling to develop prototypes and designs.
  • iBeam Materials Inc., a Santa Fe lighting company.
  • Pharma Connect Xpress of Santa Fe, which created software linking pharmaceutical representatives and physicians.
  • Three Santa Fe companies that participated together in what is known as an NMSBA leveraged project, Earth System Sciences LLC, Geo-Risk and Terramar Inc., which are developing a software tool to evaluate geothermal resources.
  • Sisneros Brothers Manufacturing LLC, which makes prefabricated ductwork. The Belen company worked with Sandia engineers John Robert Laing and Thomas Bosiljevac on tensile and lateral testing.
  • Facility Facts of Albuquerque, which makes emergency-response software.
  • IC Tech Inc., which developed automated water-flow monitoring systems and worked with Sandia engineers Don Small and Michael Holzrichter.
  • The leveraged program group TriLumina Corp., Dynamic Photonics Inc., 3D Glass Solutions, Theta Plate Inc. and Ideium Inc., all of Albuquerque, which makes laser arrays. They worked with Sandia engineer Robert Brocato on a laser-array-submount assembly.

State Senate majority leader: ‘The state should be proud’

“NMSBA is a major benefit offered by the national laboratories,” New Mexico House Speaker Don Tripp, R-Socorro, said at the Belen event honoring Sisneros Brothers. “Scientists provide a level of expertise most small businesses cannot afford. The state really gets its money’s worth.”

State Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, said the program not only helps small businesses but the communities where they are based. “These businesses thrive and support the area with jobs and other economic stimulus,” he said. “This is one of the most successful programs New Mexico has ever started. The state should be proud.”

NMSBA was created in 2000 by the state legislature to bring national laboratory technology and expertise to small businesses in New Mexico, promoting economic development with an emphasis on rural areas. The program has provided more than 2,300 small businesses in all 33 New Mexico counties with $43.7 million worth of research hours and materials. It has helped create and retain 4,086 New Mexico jobs at an average salary of $38,488, increase small companies’ revenues by $200 million and decrease their operating costs by $85 million. These companies have invested $68.3 million in other New Mexico goods and services and received $77.1 million in new funding and financing.

State Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, said NMSBA has a great synergy. “The resources of a place like Sandia are applied to real-world problems,” he said. “How will we break the cycle of poverty in New Mexico? We need everything we can get. NMSBA is an example of how government can provide a tremendous shot in the arm for entrepreneurs in the private sector.”

Source: Sandia

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