Venture catalyst

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By Roger Snodgrass

SANTA FE – Los Alamos National Laboratory is looking for a full-time visitor with a sharp eye for hot technology.

LANL officials held a bidder briefing for a new entrepreneurial initiative that they hope to begin with the new fiscal year in October.

The program, called the Los Alamos Venture Accumulation Initiative (LAVA), is worth up to $1 million over three years to the right company and maybe more. The funds are intended to defray a portion of the company’s costs, which would include one or more “on-site” company representatives and direct expenses for each deal.

In return, the company is expected to find backing for at least three new companies.

The meeting described the initiative, the solicitation procedure and answered a number of questions about what was expected to respond to the proposal.

John Mott, who heads the Tech Transfer Division, said the laboratory is looking for a partner who could help overcome one basic problem.

“It’s very difficult for us to spin out our technology,” he said. “In part, that’s because few venture firms invest in early-stage technology.”

Typically, venture capitalists are looking for more of a package and business plan combination when they entertain investment prospects.

The lab’s plan is to use income from accumulated royalties from past licenses and copyrights to seed the new ventures, said Belinda Padilla, program manager for the development office.

In answering questions, Mott and Padilla emphasized the importance of creating new companies, rather than identifying a new opportunity for an established firm.

There’s no problem about the partner passing along the suggestion.

“That’s fine, that’s great, but that’s not what we want,” Mott said. “We would expect our partner to inform us and we’ll take it from there.”

He added, “We are really looking for new.”

Recognizing that technology may eventually migrate to another location, Padilla said, “We would never make a requirement that keeps the company from being successful.”

At the same time, Mott added, “if none (of the start-ups) is a New Mexico company, the pilot would end.”

The winning proposal is expected to demonstrate that it has “access to sufficient capital to launch” the new companies and there were questions about what it would take to demonstrate that.

“We’ll let you tell us what that evidence is,” Mott said.

The laboratory has a visiting entrepreneur program, which will continue. But Mott said there were some “apparent conflicts of interests,” largely because formerly the visiting entrepreneur could identify a commercial technology and then be a part of the company that licensed it for business. That will no longer be the case, Mott said.

The new pilot program is modeled on a Department of Energy Entrepreneur in Residence Program at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and elsewhere.

By making it a competitive process, the lab will be able to provide the winning company with some advantages.

One of them is a 180-day first right of refusal on identified technologies.

Some 20 or so people attended the meeting at the Santa Fe Community College Wednesday.

They ranged from the curious who left during a lull in the meeting, to four or five who were serious enough to stay for a one-on-one session afterward.

Marie Longsere of the Santa Fe Business Incubator said she was interested in the laboratory program because they have nurtured three or four spin-offs from the laboratory.

“We don’t know if it’s something we would bid on,” she said, “but we’re interested whether we do it or not.”

The meeting in Santa Fe followed a similar event in Albuquerque.

The sponsors said they might also do a “webinar,” that could include any interested parties who were unable to attend the preliminary meetings.

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