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New Mexico State University

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NMSU student group cultivates tomorrow's entrepreneurs

With corporate America still sluggish in its hiring, college students are taking steps to create their own job opportunities.


Shanta Thoutam is standing next to a sitting Brittain Catron in front of a computer.
NMSU-CEO members Shanta Thoutam (standing) and Brittain Catron look over a business plan at the Arrowhead Center's student incubator, Studio G. (NMSU photo by Janet Perez)

At New Mexico State University, obtaining the tools to create those employment opportunities includes membership in the College Entrepreneurs' Organization. The group has more than 240 chapters on university campuses across the world, and its mission is to inform, support and inspire college students to be entrepreneurial and seek opportunity through enterprise creation.

The CEO-NMSU chapter was dormant for a few years before re-activating last fall. Just like the old group, the revitalized chapter welcomes students from all of NMSU's colleges in recognition that entrepreneurs come from a variety of backgrounds. The group also works to create a network with local and regional business owners.

"We are reviving the program to really spur interest in entrepreneurship among all college students, no matter what major," said Sara Sanders, entrepreneurship director at the Arrowhead Center, NMSU's economic development hub. "These students are primarily interested in starting their own company one day. They go to an annual conference in order to learn about entrepreneurship from different experts, participate in mini-competitions such as an elevator pitch competition, and they also have many great speakers. I was in the group when I was a student at NMSU."

For MBA candidate Brittain Catron, the CEO-NMSU group provides welcome resources for his upstart business, Blue Caliber Innovations. Catron's company has created a new product called the Jimmy Hook, which will allow users to clasp tools to their wheelbarrows.

"My undergrad was in chemical engineering, but I couldn't find a job," he said. "For me, I'm just trying to pursue avenues where I can use both my engineering and business skills. I think that being an entrepreneur is in large part a networking career. You need to be out there mingling and mixing and seeing things from different perspectives, and this club really offers a chance for students from all different backgrounds to come together for the purpose of promoting small businesses. Hopefully a good number of us will be the next group of entrepreneurs in New Mexico."

Shanta Thoutam, president of the CEO-NMSU group, graduated from NMSU in 2004 with a master's degree in electrical engineering. She worked for a semiconductor company in Austin, Texas, for five years before being laid off. She's back at NMSU to pursue her doctorate in electrical engineering and also plans to earn an MBA. Currently, she is working as a technology commercialization associate at the Intellectual Property Office at NMSU and volunteers at the Arrowhead Center.

"In this economy, everybody wants to start up a company," she said. "Lately, we see very young people coming up with startup companies and making millions of dollars, and eventually those companies are acquired by bigger companies."

The CEO-NMSU group recently received a look at what steps entrepreneurs have to take in order to successfully acquire venture capital for a startup. Last month, an NMSU-CEO team consisting of Thoutam, Catron, and Patrick Waggoner participated in the Camino Real Venture Competition in El Paso. For the competition, student teams presented business plans based on innovative technologies to a group of judges that included business people, entrepreneurs and venture capitalists. The teams submitted written business plans to the judges prior to the event and then conducted 60-second elevator pitches and PowerPoint presentations of their plans.

The CEO-NMSU business plan was based on the algae biodiesel research being conducted at the university. The CEO-NMSU team's company wanted to introduce a thriving biodiesel economy to southern New Mexico. The business model emphasized a novel process of simultaneously extracting and converting wet algae to biodiesel that has become available through the Intellectual Property Office at NMSU. The CEO-NMSU team also detailed what products and services the company offered, market analysis and strategies, operations and management, financial statements, offerings, and exit strategies.

Ten teams competed in the event, with the NMSU and University of New Mexico student CEO groups tying for third place.

"Overall, the competition was an interesting and exciting learning experience for all three of us," Thoutam said. "We met excellent competing teams and venture capitalists who brought an enormous amount of expertise with them to the competition. This competition was a good platform to learn about how VCs judge business ventures before pouring their capital into them. All of the teams received invaluable feedback from the VCs and we hope to put the knowledge to use when we dive into real-time entrepreneurship."

For more information on the CEO-NMSU group, email Thoutam at ceonmsu@gmail.com or sthoutam@nmsu.edu.