TVC announces start-up slate

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By Roger Snodgrass

The horses are in the paddock, getting ready for race day.

Two start-up companies with Los Alamos connections will be at the gate when Technology Ventures Corporation’s 16th annual investor forum gets underway May 6-7 in Albuquerque.

Surya Suncare and Vital Alert Technologies are among 15 companies selected to present business plans to the national and international investment community this year.

Steve Renfro, a senior manager at Los Alamos National Laboratory is the president and chief executive officer of Surya Suncare. The company is fielding a patent-pending sunscreen based on advances in nanotechnology.

Vital Alert Technology is the U.S. wing of a Canadian company that has had an office at the Research Park in Los Alamos since mid-2006, where engineers have been working on an underground radio technology.

Vital Alert’s communication devices were inspired by critical shortcomings in conventional radio frequency communications, highlighted during the Sago mining disaster in West Virginia in early January 2006, when 13 miners lost their lives after an underground explosion.

Michael Erickson, a LANL licensing executive in the Tech Transfer Division, has been working with both companies.

“Vital Alert has done quite a bit of work taking a science project and making it something very near a commercial product,” he said. “They’re shooting to be revenue positive by the end of the year and they’ve made a great deal of progress.”

The device is expected to be a useful form of communication in a variety of emergency scenarios, especially when a low frequency band is needed to penetrate metal and concrete that would obstruct a higher frequency signal.

Surya Suncare is vying to become the first company to market a high-tech sunscreen product designed to block ultraviolet rays in the range that cause aging and skin cancers. Known as UVA, these bands are not adequately screened by current sun protection applications.

According to the company, melanoma rates have actually risen since the Sun Protection Factor system was devised to rate UVB-sunburn protection in products that don’t also guard against the the potentially more serious UVA spectrum.

“They want to integrate nano-crystal dots into ways to protect against the sun’s ultraviolet radiation,” Erickson said. “The idea is to create a product that protects all the way into the UVA spectrum, against aging and malignant melanoma.”

The companies were chosen from an applicant pool of 52 companies that participated in the TVC mentoring and training process over the last year to package their business plan.

This month the 15 finalists have been polishing their presentations. They will each have 10 minutes on stage to make their pitches.

This year, according to a TVC analysis, nine of the companies are commercializing technologies from national laboratories or university sources in the areas of alternative energy, energy efficiency, electronics and instrumentation, information technology or software, and micro- or nanotechnology.

Eight of them are New Mexico-based, two are from Idaho, two from Illinois, one each from California and Colorado. And Vital Alert has plans to move from Canada to New Mexico.

Typically, says Sherman McCorkle, one out of three companies in the final group of presenters at the symposium obtains funding, which beats the typical rule-of-thumb that is more like one in a thousand for start-ups.

“These presenting companies represent the robustness of the economic communities in our nation. It is proof that the money invested in our national laboratories and universities can contribute to economic growth even in these economically challenging times,” McCorkle said in announcing the agenda for the forum.

Among the products on display will be plans for new lithium-ion battery systems, wind turbines, custom glass mosaics, composting systems, sulfur-reduction technologies for natural gas production, glucose and alcohol measuring monitoring devices, and reusable rockets for suborbital voyages and low-earth orbit.

TVC is a nonprofit charitable foundation funded by Lockheed Martin Corporation and the Department of Energy to promote technology commercialization.

Information on the symposium is available at http://www.techventures.org/TVC-ECS/.