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Capital ideas seek big bucks: Entrepreneurs bid for early funding at TVC symposium

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By Roger Snodgrass

ALBUQUERQUE – Fifteen companies vied to attract a dwindling supply of venture capital dollars at the 16th annual Technology Ventures Equity Capital Symposium this week.

If there was anything moving up in the high-risk, high-gain territory of new technology offerings, it was happening here.

Turn-out was considered good, with about 200 participants, TVC organizers said.

“In this economy, that’s very good,” said TVC President and CEO Sherman McCorkle, who has been a guiding influence in New Mexico’s rise to entrepreneurial prominence in recent years.

Welcoming the investors and purveyors of new business initiatives, McCorkle said he had consulted an astrologer about the day’s significance and was told it was a good day for investments.

Noting the amazing victory of “Mine That Bird,” a New Mexico horse with 50-1 odds in the Kentucky Derby, McCorkle said, “One of the presenters today will provide that kind of return, but I’m not going to tell you which one.”

Fifteen shots at the main chance

Under normal odds, five of the 15 presenters would have a pretty good shot at raising money at the TVC symposium each year. To get that far, they had already outshone 37 other proposals.

TVC and a team of advisors has been seriously coaching, prepping and rehearsing them for the last several weeks.

Ideas looking for partners this time around included Infinica’s specialized batteries that harvest ambient energy to provide “endless power,” InLight’s diabetes monitoring kits with “no blood and no pain,” and H2S Technologies plan to remove dangerous and unhealthy, acid-rain precipitating emissions of hydrogen sulphide sour gas from the natural gas production process.

Good Earth Bio-Solutions founder Mark D. Christensen from Idaho Falls showed a video clip in which a truck load of dead cows, old tires and municipal waste were all turned into organic waste with the help of proprietary microbes, molds and enzymes.

Competing new designs for wind turbines were offered by Bluenergy Solarwind and Vawtpower Management.

There were drug identification instruments by Microsonic Systems, TruTouch Technologies’ non-invasive alcohol screening, software by Adica for sustainable energy planning in the ever-more bewildering regulatory and competitive environment of the 21st century, Track Metrix’s global tracking and environmental monitoring software, custom glass mosaic tiles designed by Erin Adams and controlled medical infusion devices from Fluonic.

Hands down, the closest to a sub-orbital presentation was made by XCorps Aerospace, which designs and builds space launch systems with the philosophy that “there is no law of physics that says space transportation must be expensive.”

XCorps was out to raise $10 million to compete in a market they estimate will be $1.5 billion in 2012 and growing at a 20 percent clip each year.

Los Alamos

connections

Two companies with ties to Los Alamos National Laboratory joined in the series of 10-minute pitches.

Vital Alert Technologies, a Canadian company with an American subsidiary, has licensed very low frequency, wireless radio technology to develop communication refuge chambers in mines, emergency back-up systems for skyscrapers and other urban buildings.

James Hackwood said the company was seeking $3.2 million to complete the commercialization and to fund sales and operations.

“We’re looking good for up to $2.5 million of that investment,” Hackwood said. “We can be quickly into sales.”

The company is talking to the New York Transit Authority about an emergency communication system for subway’s 245 miles of track and to the Nevada Test Site about deep underground monitoring.

Surya Suncare is a company with its offices in Los Alamos. Steve Renfro a senior manager at LANL is the President. The company grew out of an assignment in an Executive Masters of Business Administration program at the University of NewMexico that turned into the real deal.

The product is patent-pending, high-tech sunscreen that promises to block out harmful, cancer-causing ultraviolet radiation. Current sunscreens, the company says, may actually have contributed to the rise in melanoma in recent years by creating a false sense of protection.

“We are seeking $1.25 million,” Renfro said. “We hope that is our only round of fundraising.”

If all goes well, the product will be marketed at first as a premium, “price-insensitive brand,” in local and regional beauty spas before going on to compete in the U.S. market, with annual sales for 2007 of $1.18 billion and beyond that to the $4.7 billion global market.

Surya Suncare is available in White Rock at the Oasis Skin Spa, where the owner Kathy Dye has been an advisor.

Dr. Miles Nelson, who works as an emergency physician at Los Alamos Medical Center and also has an MBA, is part of the team, and will manage the laboratory testing for which part of the investment will be used.

“We’ve had a lot of very good conversations today, and we’ll probably have a lot to follow,” Renfro said, during the final showcase session.

 Economic background, a facing wind

Nationally, venture capital transactions were down by nearly half in terms of dollars and 40 percent in terms of deals during the first quarter this year, and that was on top of an 8 percent drop in investment capital and a 4 percent drop in deal volume for last year.

That’s according to the MoneyTree Report by PricewaterhouseCoopers and the National Venture Capital Association, based on data from Thomson Reuters.

Always a highlight of the annual symposium is the keynote speech that follows the presentations. This year’s speaker was Eugenio J. Alemán, senior economist and vice president of Wells Fargo and company.

Alemán made the grim subject of economic turmoil a foil for his humorous insight.

Almost all of the graphs and slides he showed demonstrated his ambiguous point that “we are closer to our recovery today than we were yesterday.”       

“The markets are on a roll,” he said. “If you wanted to pick the bottom, you are already behind.”

On the other hand, he warned, “My concern is that we won’t get out of the bottom for a long time.”

Slide after slide of economic data demonstrated that the fall of Lehman Brothers on September 15, 2008 was the turning point in the collapsing economy, with 5 million jobs lost in a hurry since then.

Added to the schedule of the conference this year was an expanded “technology brief” by the Department of Energy National laboratories, striving to create wider opportunities for their new inventions and technologies. Argonne, Idaho and Oak Ridge national laboratories joined Los Alamos and Sandia to make presentations this year.