Meet the Baton Rouge family firm whose pitch brought home $15K from New Orleans Entrepreneurship Week

Back in 2008, Nicole Waguespack’s family founded Martin Ecosystems, a coastal restoration and protection company based in Baton Rouge. Waguespack, who worked in medical sales at the time, decided to pivot her career toward the family business, which gave her more free time and allowed her to embrace her passion of life in the marsh.

“Being in the marsh will never feel like work to me,” she tells Business Report in the latest Executive Spotlight feature from the new issue. “It is a place of relaxation and peace and a place to simply ‘be’ without distraction.”

As Louisiana’s coastline continues to erode—it’s disappearing at a rate of 16.57 square miles per year, according to the U.S. Geological Survey—Martin Ecosystems’ work is never ending.

“As a small business with six employees, we all wear multiple hats,” she says. “In the last couple of months, I’ve worked on filing a patent for a new product, written a grant application, and met with the Department of Commerce representatives in New Orleans on international exporting, all of which have been new for me.”

One of the primary challenges Martin Ecosystems faces is the amount of research and legwork required to bring new products to market, Waguespack says. “Nature is oftentimes unpredictable, and we’ve had to make sure when and where our products will be most successful or helpful and where they will not,” she says.

Though it’s a young company, Martin Ecosystems is already making a name for itself. It won the Water Challenge pitch competition at the 2016 New Orleans Entrepreneurship Week, taking the $15,000 prize with its BioHaven Floating Island products, which use recycled plastic water bottles and help reduce coastal erosion.

“Winning the Water Challenge was important for us because it provided validation in a sense for what we are doing,” Waguespack says. “It put Martin Ecosystems out in front of a large number of people who said, ‘We like what you are doing and see a need for it.’”

Read the full Executive Spotlight Q&A. Here’s an example of what you’ll find:

What have been some of the unexpected trials you’ve faced in running your company?

The primary trials have been the amount of research required to bring new products to market and the hurdles to jump in order to have them become acceptable practices. We’ve had to spend a lot of time and money researching our products for effectiveness in a variety of environmental conditions. Nature is oftentimes unpredictable, and we’ve had to make sure when and where our products will be most successful or helpful and where they will not.

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