By Aaron Montes / El Paso Inc. reporter
JUÁREZ, México – David Nacif and his business partner, Alberto Jauregui, traveled nearly 300 miles from Chihuahua City to Juárez to pitch their venture to four business “sharks.”
And on Tuesday, at the RESET binational technology conference, the pair were given their moment to shine at an event modeled after the TV show “Shark Tank.”
Nacif and Jauregui mounted the stage while the theme song from the movie “Jaws” played. They stood under the spotlights before an audience of about 200 people at Technology HUB in Juárez.
Nacif pitched their online business called Reply’em, messaging software created for businesses to quickly send announcements on Facebook to hundreds of recipients.
He was peppered with questions from the four sharks: Alejandra de la Vega-Foster, secretary of innovation and economic development for the state of Chihuahua; Ricardo Mora, founder of Technology HUB; Luis Antonio Corral Perez, general director of the Shareholders Administration Council at Grupo La Norteñita; and Benito Fernandez, Sistema Axis board chairman.
Mora wanted to know if the company had insurance. Corral wanted to know what separated Reply’em from its three competitors.
Nacif assured the sharks that their software was better than their competitors’ software, and they had already secured 300 users in about 70 countries.
In the end, the pair secured an investment from the sharks. They received a $20,000 check and a hug in exchange for 5-percent equity in the business.
“I am not here for the check; I am here for the sharks,” Nacif told El Paso Inc. “To be honest, I don’t know when I will cash the $20,000.”
Three of the 10 entrepreneurs who pitched the sharks won investments, and a total of $70,000 was awarded.
The “Shark Tank” competition kicked off the three-day binational RESET conference, held in Juárez and El Paso from Nov. 14 to 16. More than 30 organizations in the state of Chihuahua and El Paso sponsored the conference, which was held during global entrepreneurship week.
The event attracted big-name speakers from Marvel Comics, NASA, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, National Geographic and Amazon.
The conference was designed to introduce students in high school and college to the world of innovation, entrepreneurship, robotics, artificial intelligence, film and illustration.
The Technology HUB and state of Chihuahua received more than 260 applications for the “Shark Tank” competition, including one from El Paso. Over the course of four months that number was narrowed down to 20 and, finally, to 10.
“It’s not a venture competition,” Mora said. “It’s got to be a real business.”
Pitches included everything from pecan processing and food-delivery products to smartphone applications and medical devices.
Ivan Baeza, the founder and CEO of Pide a Casa, managed to secure financial support from the four sharks. Baeza agreed to trade 7 percent equity in his venture for a $20,000 investment.
Pide a Casa, operated by 11 employees, is a digital service that provides fast delivery from seven restaurants in Delicias, Chihuahua. Right now, customers can order food through the startup’s webpage, but the company is developing a smartphone app.
The company turned a profit of $236,073 from July 2016 to July 2017, according to Baeza
He drove six hours from Delicias to Juárez to attend the RESET conference. At first, he said, he was a bit nervous.
But “when we started talking to the sharks, it got better,” he said.
Baeza plans to use the investment to perfect the app, which he hopes to launch in February or March. He said the investment opens the doors for his company to expand to Chihuahua City, Cuauhtémoc and Juárez.
Technology HUB has transformed the former U.S. Consulate General compound in Juárez into a 1.8-acre technology and entrepreneurship campus.
The HUB combines a startup incubator and business accelerator with co-working office space and fabrication lab. It has grown since it opened its doors in late 2015.
Last Tuesday, Mora sat atop the compound, overlooking Juárez. The patio, which includes a putting green, is also used by one of the startups operating out of the HUB to test drones.
Restaurants and hotels around the compound closed when the area’s major economic driver, the U.S. Consulate General, moved. Today, many of the buildings remain vacant.
But Mora said he is encouraged by a growing interest in technological innovation in El Paso and Juárez, which is better known for its factories.
Mora said there are plans to renovate Hotel La Playa, located just down the street.
“We have investors that have already secured the space,” he said. “We’re building what we call an LC4. It’s a learning center for advanced manufacturing.”
He said there are also plans for a boutique hotel and a collaborative living space where entrepreneurs can meet.
“This will be the corridor of innovation,” he said. “One of the streets, at least, in Ciudad Juárez.”