Sandia National Laboratories gave the New Mexico Angels a peek behind the fence on Thursday to consider investing in some new, cutting-edge technologies.
That includes some potentially game-changing innovations, such as microscale solar cells about the width of a human hair that could be used to provide continuous power for many of today’s consumer electronics, plus tiny fiber-optic sensors that engineers can embed in things like the wings of planes or the bodies of cars to provide real-time diagnostics on performance and safety.
Sandia scientists showed those technologies and more at a luncheon in Nob Hill hosted by the Angels, a group of local investors who pool their resources to build startup companies. The event is the first of what may become a quarterly gathering to promote Angel assistance to take lab inventions to market, said Sandia Vice President and Chief Technology Officer Julia Phillips.
“It’s a targeted effort to pursue our goal of deploying technology developed at taxpayer expense for the benefit of taxpayers,” Phillips told the Journal. “We want to interact with investors in a more direct way. We’re looking at doing perhaps four of these events per year.”
For the last two years, Sandia has organized public technology showcase events in Albuquerque that drew hundreds of investors and entrepreneurs from New Mexico and elsewhere.
But given the success of a similar Angel partnership with the University of New Mexico, in which UNM’s Science and Technology Corp. has shown promising UNM technologies to the Angels at annual luncheons, Sandia decided to try it as well, said NM Angels President John Chavez.
“Through our partnership with the STC, the Angels have created six startup companies,” Chavez said. “Individual investors have also formed another three companies on their own with UNM technology after attending the showcase luncheons.”
The new Sandia partnership is mutually advantageous, Chavez said, because it gives the Angels a direct window in the laboratory fence, while bringing investor experience and know-how to bear on Sandia’s technology transfer efforts. In preparation for the Thursday luncheon, for example, teams of Angels reviewed a dozen lab inventions and then narrowed the showcase presentations to the three most-promising ones.
That included the microscale solar cells and fiber-optic sensors, as well as a new Sandia process for inexpensively separating the elements in gas streams. That technology could potentially be used for carbon capture and sequestration at coal plants, among other things.
The solar technology is now the most commercially advanced for investors to take to market, said Sandia engineer Jeff Nelson.
“This is not early stage technology,” Nelson said. “We have customers, we have prototypes and we’re ready to go.”