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Lab tech transfer spawns jobs

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The work of Sandia National Laboratories researchers – who for a couple of decades have been able to leave to start or join small companies and still return – have been instrumental in creating jobs and boosting economic development, according to a new survey.

Greg Sommer was part of the Sandia National Laboratories team that developed the medical diagnostic lab-on-a-disk known as SpinDx. (Courtesy of Sandia Labs)

Greg Sommer was part of the Sandia National Laboratories team that developed the medical diagnostic lab-on-a-disk known as SpinDx. (Courtesy of Sandia Labs)

For example, Greg Sommer was on the Sandia team that developed the medical diagnostic lab-on-a-disk known as SpinDx. It is being commercialized using Sandia’s Entrepreneurial Separation to Transfer Technology program.

That program is an “innovative tech-transfer tool that has endured,” said Jackie Kerby Moore, Sandia’s manager of Technology and Economic Development. “Not only do we have many success stories, but we’ve measured the economic impact, which shows positive benefits to the local community. Furthermore, entrepreneurs who return to Sandia bring new experiences that benefit the labs.”

Thirty-three of the 99 companies involved in program since it began in 1994 responded to the survey gauging its economic impact. Respondents said 379 jobs were created by their companies through the program since it began, and that in 2012 they employed 1,550 people at an average annual salary of $80,000. Their 2012 sales revenue was $212 million. From 2008 through 2012, the businesses invested $40 million in equipment and $277 million in goods and services. Two-thirds of them had commercialized a technology as a result of ESTT.

“Four startups using Sandia technology licenses came out of the program in the past two years alone, along with a number of company expansions,” Kerby Moore said. “Of these, three licensed technologies from Sandia.”

One of Sandia’s hottest technologies is the medical diagnostic lab-on-a-disk SpinDx, being commercialized by Sommer using ESTT. He co-founded and is chief executive officer of Sandstone Diagnostics in Livermore, Calif., which is bringing the technology to market.

“The high-tech environment at Sandia is ripe for innovation and game-changing technologies,” he said. “The ESTT program allowed us to launch Sandstone and develop cutting-edge medical products based on technology we originally developed for Sandia’s biodefense missions.”

The transfer program encourages researchers to take technology out of the labs and into the private sector by guaranteeing their jobs back if they return within two years. They can request a third-year extension.

The Sandia survey showed that 145 Sandia researchers left through the program, 62 to start a business and 83 to expand one. Forty-one, or 28 percent, returned to the labs while 98 researchers left for good. Six are currently in the transfer program. Of the 99 companies impacted by the program since 1994, 49 were startups and 50 were expansions.

Of the 145 who left on ESTT, 27 of the companies they joined licensed a Sandia technology.

Looking back at 20 years, Kerby Moore said ESTT has been an important piece of Sandia’s tech transfer and economic development portfolio. “It is still relevant and has a lot of life ahead,” she said.

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