Entrepreneurs prepare LLNL business plans

LIVERMORE, CA—Although Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) is not the only institution to make its many patented technologies available for licensing, partnering, or commercial development (see www.

LIVERMORE, CA—Although Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) is not the only institution to make its many patented technologies available for licensing, partnering, or commercial development (see www.laserfocusworld.com/articles/243227), its newly named Industrial Partnerships Office (IPO; http://ipo.llnl.gov) is making technology transfer easier (and hopefully more profitable) through its Business Plan Development Program. “Livermore is a technology trove, and we wanted to find a way to accelerate the development of our ‘disruptive’ technologies that would benefit both LLNL and the entrepreneurs capable of bringing those technologies to the marketplace,” said Ralph Jacobs, chief technologist for the IPO and also an Editorial Advisory Board member for Laser Focus World (Nashua, NH). “Part of the Business Plan Development Program is active outreach into local business schools and entrepreneurial centers to promote LLNL’s candidate technologies.”

To date, Jacobs has been the lead promoter of the Business Plan Development Program—which was initiated in October 2007—by engaging entrepreneurs in his local area at UC Davis, UC Berkeley, the University of San Francisco, San Jose State University, Golden Gate University, the University of the Pacific in Stockton, and at Stanford University, among others. This businessschool outreach is just the start of what Jacobs hopes will be a continuing effort through the IPO. “We currently have 12 business plans being written on LLNL technologies,” said Jacobs. “Business students and entrepreneurs benefit by having access to real-world technologies that have the potential for significant economic impact, and LLNL benefits from the business insight of these entrepreneurs in helping LLNL better transfer our technologies to the private sector.”

In October 2007, LLNL officially became a limited liability corporation (LLC), to be managed and operated by Lawrence Livermore National Security, LLC (LLNS). Much of the impetus for developing the Business Plan Development P r o gram stemmed from changes in LLNL’s Industrial Partnerships and Commercialization (IPAC) office, which was renamed the Industrial Partnerships Office (IPO) in early 2008. With the retirement of some of the management at IPAC, the IPO is now under the fresh leadership of its new director Erik Stenehjem (stenyem), fo rm e rly of Battelle (Columbus, OH) and having many years of experience in technology commercialization—especially between Battelle and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL; Richland, WA). In addition to Stenehjem, the IPO is also under the leadership of deputy director Roger Werne, a long-time LLNL employee, as well as chief technologist Ralph Jacobs.

In defining the Business Plan Development Program specifics, Jacobs wanted to be sure that LLNL defined ‘candidate technologies’ that met at least three criteria: the candidate technologies (1) had to be ‘disruptive’ and capable of significant commercial success, (2) needed to be publicly announced and unencumbered (not currently being licensed or utilized), and (3) needed to becapable of commercial development over a two -year period. “ F i ve years is forever and venture capitalists just can’t get excited,” said Jacobs. “ We needed to make sure that the technologies we selected among the 895 or so LLNL patented technologies ( over the last 10 years) were viable for a two -year commercialization schedule.” As a result, LLNL defined 17 ‘ c a n d idate technologies’ for the 2008 Program that include such photonics-related technologies as nanolaminate mirror technology, optical stitching image technology, and an optical surveillance system.

After announcing the Program late last year, students working on the 12 current business plans have had access to the six business development executives (BDEs) at the IPO and are actively visiting the BDEs and engaging their expertise to improve the business plans underway. “To date, we already have several success stories related to the Program,” said Jacobs. “We had a student from MIT take a look at our candidate technologies, and actually wanted to use a different LLNL technology listed on our website, using carbon nanotubes in water purification,” said Jacobs. “We approved his business plan and he is now in the running for a hefty monetary prize in an MIT business plan competition.” Indeed, MIT, the U.S. Department of Energy, and electric utility NSTAR announced a new $200,000 cash prize for the best idea for a business supporting a technology, product, or service in the clean-energy sector. The “MIT Clean Energy Entrepreneurship Prize” is open to all student teams, not just MIT students, as well as teams from early-stage startups (as long as they have not yet received any venture funding).

And MIT is not the only business plan competition with a dollar payout. As Jacobs suggested, I entered ‘business plan competitions’ in a google search and was amazed to see the number of University and other publicly and privately sponsored business plan competition programs (for a good directory, see www.smallbusinessnotes.com/planning/competitions.html). Jacobs also noted that one of the 12 LLNL business plans on microcantilever-based chemical sensors won one of the five “Little Bang” $3000 UC Davis business plan awards and is now being considered for the $15,000 “Big Bang” award (see big bang.gsm.ucdavis.edu/).

“The Business Plan Development Program is a logical closed loop exercise,” says Jacobs. “Business students can utilize breakthrough technologies as the basis for their business plans toward obtaining their MBA degrees. And LLNL can use the business plans to better commercialize its technologies.” Jacobs points out that ideally, the mutual partnership could enable entrepreneurs to not only win business plan competitions, but could also be the beginning of a technology “startup opportunity” to be pitched to Angel investors and venture capitalists with LLNL possibly securing an equity holding. Indeed, with its FY07 licensing income estimated at $7 million, and its Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) income wo rth $11 million, LLNL has a vested interest in better monetizing its technologies by moving them into the public domain.

To learn more about the LLNL Business Plan Development Program, go to ipo.llnl.gov or contact Ralph Jacobs directly at jacobs6@llnl.gov.

—Gail Overton

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