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Thursday, March 23, 2006
Tiny Techs Will Show Their Wares at This Year's Equity Capital Symposium
By Andrew Webb
Journal Staff Writer
Daniel Parker knows that marketing a new replacement spark plug designed to squeeze more fuel efficiency and power out of an engine will be an uphill battle.
The public, government agencies and consumer advocates tend to be very skeptical about aftermarket performance devices.
But Parker's Albuquerque company, EnerPulse, is persistent. The firm is having another go at this year's Technology Venture Corp. Equity Capital Symposium, where it will join 17 other tiny techs in the annual elevator-pitch ritual that attracts venture capitalists from around the country.
EnerPulse makes spark plugs that contain capacitors, which gather and store an electrical charge, then deliver a spark the company says is a whopping 10,000 times that of a conventional spark plug. The company says it has proven the devices can increase fuel economy and power by burning additional gasoline in each engine combustion cycle.
EnerPulse presented in 2003 at the symposium, which is now in its 13th year, and subsequently raised $3 million in investor capital, which it used to develop the "pulse" plugs and have them tested to EPA standards. Parker says the company is now seeking another round of funding to help it target key markets as the plugs are rolled out in auto parts stores beginning early next year.
"We're going to blitz into key markets," he says, outlining plans to seek a customer base among compact sports car enthusiasts.
By the time it launches the product, Parker says, EnerPulse expects to have data on up to 100 vehicles showing fuel savings of up to 8 percent and a power increase of up to 10 percent. Once they try it, he says, drivers will be convinced.
"Anyone could get in the car and feel it," he says. "Marketing is basically going to be key."
Parker's isn't the only automotive-related technology company presenting this year.
Santa Fe-based PaceIgnitions Inc. is marketing a device that sets off buzzers and flashing lights if a teenage driver exceeds a parent's speed limit. Other 2006 presenters will include medical technologies, Internet search and information management systems, tiny batteries, truck-size water purifiers and X-ray glasses for oil fields, to name a few.
And, if the last 24 months of investor activity are any indication, 2006 could be a breakout year for the latest crop of startups.
"I'm very bullish on equity capital investments in New Mexico," said Sherman McCorkle, CEO of Technology Ventures Corp., the Department of Energy-funded nonprofit that seeks to advance commercialization of technologies developed at Sandia and Los Alamos national laboratories, as well as area universities and other institutions.
"The teeter-totter has tottered," he said.
New Mexico companies received an all-time record sum of venture capital investments last year. According to the National Venture Capital Association, investors dropped $88.4 million here in 2005, up from $24 million in 2004, while national investment figures stayed steady. The previous record was 2002, when $52 million was invested here.
Adding in investments not counted by the NVCA brings the total to nearly $140 million.
McCorkle credits the recent boosts to several factors, among them a strong private, or "angel," investor community led by New Mexico Private Investors, the state's aggressive investment programs aimed at bringing investors here, and reinvigorated efforts by institutions to get the fruits of their research into the commercial marketplace.
He singled out the University of New Mexico, which has in recent years ramped up its licensing activities and sought to strengthen its tech transfer arm, the Science and Technology Corp.
"They're much more proactive than they've ever been," he said.