When new technology meets ancient and revered culinary traditions, even classic handmade foods can be improved upon and made more efficiently.
Minerva Robotics, with the help of New Mexico State University’s Arrowhead Center, aims to use computer learning and fresh ingredients to bring gourmet tortillas to homes and businesses in the United States and Mexico.
“Minerva has shown an impressive skill set to launch a startup, developing a prototype, connect with local resources, and fundraising,” said Carlos Murguia, director of Arrowhead Center’s Foster Innovation Exchange (FIX) program. In July, Arrowhead Center’s FIX signed an agreement with Minerva Robotics to continue their journey.
Minerva will be creating the first-of-its-kind tortilla subscription service. Customers will be able to subscribe and receive freshly made tortillas delivered to their homes or businesses.
With robotics, Minerva wants to tailor the use of raw materials, like New Mexico heirloom corn, to each customers’ specifications instead of the typically used, highly processed flours commonly used.
Minerva’s smart tortilla machine, the NixMix, will take high-quality corn in order to replicate the handmade process of tortilla production. It gets its name from nixtamalization, the process by which corn kernels are cooked in an alkaline solution, changing the corn’s chemical structure. It is a critical step that gives tortillas its flavor and texture.
Unfortunately, it’s a labor- and time-intensive method taking up to nine hours from milling the corn to the hot tortilla on the table.
While there are machines pumping out regular store-bought tortillas, the heavily processed ingredients are not like what is made at a home – a flavor and consistency that the NixMix tortilla matches.
“What’s in use now are outdated machines, unchanged technology from 50 years ago with a lot of inefficiency,” said J.R. Rosillo, CEO of Minerva Robotics, who has been launching startups for the past 3 years. “We want to cater to a growing Hispanic market in the U.S. It’s the largest minority, approximately 18 percent of the U.S. population. We have an initial target of 50,000 Mexican restaurants in the U.S. and over 80,000 tortilla shops in Mexico with our product.”
Rosillo, along with Chief Marketing Officer Renata Salcedo, Chief Technology Officer Marco Moreno and Country Director Fernando Nuñez, will merge their resources with those of Arrowhead Center to make the move into the Mexican and United States markets.
“Arrowhead is able to offer a soft landing for Minerva to launch the startup in New Mexico and take full advantage of our network of advisors who can guide the way,” said Kathryn Hansen, director of Arrowhead Center. “Minerva already has had the support of NMSU faculty to discuss different types of New Mexico-grown corn that would be a selling point for not only the product, but also valuable for our state’s economic development abroad.”
Minerva Robotics looks to hire students and recent graduates of NMSU and become advisers for those interested in engaging the Mexican market with the benefits of the home base in New Mexico.
“New Mexico is a fertile territory where community, agricultural diversity, and collaboration will create a scenario of innovation and progress,” said Rosillo. Salcedo added, “For us, we want to share, through technology, our traditional tortilla-making methods with the world.”
Author: Cassie McClure – NMSU
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