SD FAST Launch helped propel a S.D. startup with global impact – and can do the same for your business

Inspired by her upbringing in the ancient farming town of Nahavand at the base of the Alvand mountain range in western Iran, she watched how people suffered from a lack of water as her grandfather farmed sunflowers, corn and beans.

“I was inspired to undertake this work after living in a country with water availability issues and after seeing people suffering from water shortages,” she said. “I want to do something that matters and that can make a change worldwide.”

Called AMBER, which stands for Anaerobic Membrane Bioreactor with Electrolytic Regeneration, her device can be set up like an appliance in a basement, garage or mechanical room or can be scaled up to clean wastewater from multiple homes or even a small town.

Amouamouha’s membrane bioreactor employs a combination of electrochemical bioprocessing and nanocomposite filtration. The discharge from AMBER is clean water, as well as energy in the form of pure methane and compost. The discharged water is safe to drink, and it can be recycled in the home. The compost can be used for enhancing crop production, and the methane gas can be used as an energy source.

“It’s an incredible innovation,” said Joni Ekstrum, executive director of South Dakota Biotech. “The implications of Maryam’s work are exciting and profound, and we’re so glad to have been able to support her startup journey.”

Last year, Amouamouha participated in the South Dakota FAST Launch program, which is meant to strengthen the competitiveness of small businesses and startups across the country, particularly those from underserved communities, and to help them benefit from the Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer programs.

Entrepreneurs go through a boot camp designed to help them hone their plans and processes.

“The training goals of the program are to provide instruction to prospective entrepreneurs on how to start a business, the importance of customer discovery and planning for the business,” said Katherine Cota, director of economic development at Dakota State University who leads the training portion of FAST Launch.

“Last year, we worked with more than 55 people through workshops and one-on-one meetings in the FAST Launch program. This year, we started working with entrepreneurs in September, and interest in the program has been steady.”

The best fits for the program are tech-based, scalable companies as well as those pursuing additional funding that enables the business to move forward, such as the Governor’s Giant Vision Competition or capital investments. Any stage of business can find value in the program, but idea-stage and early startups tend to benefit the most.

“It was a great experience,” Amouamouha said. “I had a business plan written and had done one for a competition, but Katherine Cota mentored us, and it was very helpful for me to improve my business plan and learn about the different structures of companies. I think the whole FAST Launch program helped me understand the process of how to actually take a product from the lab to the market.”

FAST Launch has several upcoming workshops, including its introductory boot camp:

SD FAST Launch: Business Boot Camp
SD FAST Launch: Customer Discovery
SD FAST Launch: Write a Business Plan

“Participants will learn everything involved to take an idea through startup in Boot Camp, including viability, business model generation, marketing, management, financing and more,” Cota said. “They will learn how to talk with customers and get the true voice of the customer in Customer Discovery, and they will learn the basics of planning in Business Planning.”

FAST Launch training also is available to existing businesses in any industry that want to better understand how to talk with their customers to make sure they are providing the services customers desire.

There is financing available through FAST Launch to help qualifying startups take their vision to its next level.

“Thanks to grant support, we are able to offer assistance to entrepreneurs to support engaging in rewarding customer discovery and effective business planning so the chance for success for the business is increased,” Ekstrum said.

For Amouamouha, “FAST Launch” already is living up to its name. After her participation in 2021, she won the competitive business category in the Governor’s Giant Vision Competition, which carried a $20,000 prize, and she received funding from FAST Launch to help continue honing her business model. That includes renting office space in Rapid City, continued research and development, and a trip to a trade show where she got a better sense “about the ecosystem the AMBER will be involved with and different segments of the market we can target,” she said.

She receives interest daily in AMBER from individuals and different segments of industry, including internationally, she said. She’s also working with Sioux Steel in the Sioux Falls area to hone a version of AMBER for its manufacturing facility.

“The system thinking I learned during FAST Launch really helped me,” she added. “Both Katherine and Joni were very responsive, supportive and just great to work with. I think everyone trying to start a company in the state should go through this program because it will help them enhance their skill set and launch a business.”

To learn more
In addition to the upcoming workshops, FAST Launch offers on-demand sessions and will be adding one-on-one training next year. To get connected, click here or email.
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