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Fourteen in the mix for startup help

May 22, 2018 GMT

Designer doghouses, quilt patterns and cremated remains turned to stone could be among the next big things out of Santa Fe.

Entrepreneurs behind all three concepts, plus 11 more, make up the 2018 class at the Santa Fe BizMIX accelerator. The startup kick-starter and mentoring program introduced its latest group of would-be entrepreneurs Thursday at Tumbleroot Brewery and Distillery with pep talks to start them off right.

Luca Marino-Baker brought the minimum, an idea, to the program, he said at the event. “Everything is in my head,” he said Thursday. “Today is the next step to making it a business.”

Marino-Baker calls his startup Bau Wau House, a boutique firm that will build doghouses to individual preferences. He has the dream and a background in architecture to start, but is looking for mentorship and capital to help him get the concept off the ground. Santa Fe, where design meets dollars, presents a fine opportunity, he said.

“People love their animals here,” Marino-Baker said.

Mentorship is one aspect of the BizMIX program, now in its seventh year. The finalists, chosen from about 50 applicants, are expected to take part in mentoring sessions and pitch contests, as well as create a business plan, over the next four months.

The program ends in September with final presentations and awards of about $50,000 in cash and prizes.

The prizes include in-kind services, such as legal, marketing or advertising assistance. The cash awards amount to as much as $30,000 and come from BizMIX sponsors that include Christus St. Vincent, Thornburg Investment Management and Los Alamos National Laboratory, said BizMIX co-founder Kate Noble. The city of Santa Fe covers the program’s administrative costs, $40,000 this fiscal year, she added.

Matthew Brown, director of the city Economic Development Department, said the startup accelerator provides “social capital” for Santa Fe, a population of business people creating jobs and supporting new ventures. BizMIX also helps new ventures find the investment they need to sustain themselves through the early years, he said. The participants bring an idea that is “pre-revenue,” but they typically have some business experience, Noble said.

While reviewing applications for the startup program, BizMIX judges looked at two criteria: the viability of the business and the benefit to Santa Fe.

Justin Crowe brought an idea that goes a step further than his previous startup venture, Cremation Designs. For that, Crowe created a glaze with cremated remains that’s used as a coating for ceramic objects. The ceramics become memorial objects. Crowe is working on a process to create a solid object from the ashes of cremated remains. His first venture brought so much media attention that he’s reluctant to talk about his next idea, he said.

Another of the 14 BizMIX class members, Lauren Ayer, aims to start a business selling “simple, original quilt patterns and digital quilting and embroidery designs.” Ayer said she has experience as a buyer for the Sewing Center of Santa Fe and as a teacher. She’s not yet launched her business but is close, she said.

“I’ve been working on this idea for at least two years,” Ayer said.

Part of that work is market research. Quilting is a $3.7 billion industry, Ayer said, quoting a 2017 survey by industry groups that found the average quilter spends $442 per year on the pastime.

Ayer brings her own twist to quilting.

“All the designs are inspired by nature,” she said. She plans to donate 10 percent of her profits to conservation groups to help raise awareness of endangered environments, she said.

Among her initial projects is a design depicting Mount Kilauea, the Hawaiian volcano that is erupting and forcing nearby residents to evacuate. The timing is coincidental, Ayer said.