By KIRSTEN LASKEY
Los Alamos Daily Post
Whether proposing economical ways to capture carbon emissions or computing technology that could perform brain-like tasks, participants in the University of California and Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Postdoc Entrepreneur Accelerator program offer cutting-edge ideas to address a wide range of issues.
During the Postdoc Entrepreneur Accelerator final presentations May 18, Harshul Thakkar, Luis Chavez Atayde, Michael Saccone and Madeline Bolding revealed their projects that they had been working on for the past six months.
Thakkar presented H2RECO2VERY, which addresses challenges with hydrogen production from steam methane reforming. H2RECO2VERY, he explained, is an advanced membrane that can recover almost all lost hydrogen and capture 97 percent of the carbon emitted to be sequestered or sold to meet industrial demand.
Chavez Atayde’s project, Hydrosonics, also addresses hydrogen. Hydrosonics improves hydrogen production within existing liquid alkaline electrolysis systems and extends the life of these installed systems using its patented acoustic stimulation process. It can enable higher hydrogen outputs and integrate renewable energy sources.
Saccone discussed WizChip, which provides a custom solution that performs a low power computation when high power computation is unnecessary. It gives the user only what they need in power and connectivity while performing a specific task such as image recognition or anomaly detection.
The final presentation came from Bolding, who discussed NucleoSight, which offers additional DNA and RNA imaging capabilities. The concept is a piece of DNA with a small chemical modification that binds to a commercially available fluorescent dye.
The Laboratory’s Postdoc Entrepreneur Accelerator program started in 2016. In an email to the Los Alamos Daily Post, Entrepreneur Programs Manager Molly Cernicek explained that the program was created by a group of Los Alamos managers and staff with the objective to train postdoc researchers to engage in high tech business opportunities.
“The idea was that some postdocs might be open to commercializing Los Alamos technology within local startups if they were trained to identify and pursue these kinds of opportunities,” she said. “The University of California Office of the President agreed to fund the Accelerator concept at the inception with several in this office actively involved in the program’s strategy and curriculum year after year.”
During the six months, participants are not only thinking about technical progress but are developing the mindset of an entrepreneur, Cernicek said.
“The program curriculum includes over 30 experts from around the country who present topics relevant to designing and building a high-tech product, understanding the competitive landscape to determine where new technology can compete, and creating a business model around products and applications developed around a new technology,” she said.
Cernicek added that the participants travel to the Bay Area in California and Washington D.C. each year to meet and interact with venture capitalists, corporate business developers and investors, entrepreneurs, technology accelerator leaders, and professionals involved in programs designed to facilitate government -funded technology commercialization. Furthermore, she said the postdocs are encouraged to attend conferences to talk with company leads and generate networks with potential partners and clients who may want to license their technology or mentor them in the future.
Regional Technology Commercialization Program Manager Colleen Pastuovic said the postdocs divide their time between exploring commercialization opportunities as well as advancing their technologies. They attend classroom instruction and interact with experts on their subject.
The presentations on May 18 mark the end of this round of the accelerator program but this is not the conclusion for the postdocs’ work.
Pastuovic said they will be supported an additional 25 percent of their time for three months to address key technical milestones identified to move their technologies toward a partnership, license or startup opportunity.
Cernicek added that “Out of the 22 postdocs who have participated in this program, 14 are currently at Los Alamos as staff or finishing their postdocs. The others have been hired by high tech companies, other national laboratories, and universities.”
The Accelerator offers many advantages:
- Those who are hired as full-time staff tend to be proficient at writing and receiving research grants as they have gained important insights on how to solve validated market problems within their research proposals.
- Customer discovery and networking for some postdocs lead to a research partnership with a company to develop a specific application or to license the technology.
- Program participants share their commercialization and partnership expertise with their research teams and as staff tend to recommend their postdocs to participate in the Accelerator.
- They are active in laboratory technical assistance programs working directly with business owners and entrepreneurs through programs like the New Mexico Small Business Assistance (NMSBA) program, Technology Readiness Initiative (TRGR), and the New Mexico Lab Embedded Entrepreneur Program (NM LEEP).
- Some cohorts have one or two postdocs interested in spinning out a startup. The Accelerator supports them to define technology and commercialization roadmaps with milestones they have to surpass before they sign up for the Entrepreneur Leave Program, which gives them additional support and training to be as prepared as possible before they take the leap into their own business.
To get into the program, Pastuovic said, “the postdoc entrepreneurs either participate in another Los Alamos innovator training program prior to joining the Accelerator, such as DisrupTECH or Energy I-Corps Lite, or they are recommended by a technical mentor or a business development program manager who is assessing their technology as a candidate for commercialization.”