Lawrence Livermore seeks business plans from grad students

The Industrial Partnerships Office at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) has found a way to accelerate the development of “disruptive” technologies that benefits both LLNL and entrepreneurs capable of bringing those technologies into the marketplace.

The Industrial Partnerships Office at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) has found a way to accelerate the development of “disruptive” technologies that benefits both LLNL and entrepreneurs capable of bringing those technologies into the marketplace. The LLNL Business Plan Development Program encourages graduate students in entrepreneurship programs, primarily at Northern California universities, prepare business plans for LLNL science and engineering technologies.

With this vehicle, the LLNL can address the breakthrough technologies in our inventory that are so potentially “disruptive” that established commercial firms are frequently not interested in licensing them. There are times when upstart technologies require start-up companies. The program was initiated in October 2007 and LLNL’s Industrial Partnerships Office now has 12 business plans being written about Livermore technologies by entrepreneurs at UC Davis, UC Berkeley, the University of San Francisco, San Jose State University, Golden Gate University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the University of the Pacific, among others.

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 its technologies to the private sector.

To be included in the Business Plan Development Program, LLNL a “candidate technology” must meet at least three criteria: it must be “disruptive” and capable of significant commercial success, it must have been publicly announced and unencumbered (not currently being licensed or utilized), and it must be capable of commercial development over a roughly two-year period. Five years is forever and venture capitalists just can’t get too excited about technologies that require that much time to arrive in the marketplace. We made sure that the technologies we selected among the roughly 895 LLNL patented technologies (over the last 10 years) were viable for a two-year commercialization schedule. As a result, LLNL defined 17 “candidate technologies” for the 2008 program, including photonics-related opportunities such 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 within the Industrial Partnerships Office and are actively visiting them and engaging their expertise to improve the business plans under way. We already have several success stories related to the program. One student from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) looked at our candidate technologies and chose to use a different LLNL technology from our Web site, carbon nanotubes for water desalinization. We approved his business plan and he is now in the finals for a hefty $200,000 prize in an MIT business-plan competition.

The Business Plan Development Program is a logical closed-loop exercise. Business students can utilize breakthrough technologies as the basis for their business plans toward obtaining their Masters of Business Administration degrees. And LLNL can use the business plans to better commercialize its technologies. Ideally, the mutual partnership could enable entrepreneurs to not only win business-plan competitions, but could also be the beginning of a technology “start-up opportunity” to be pitched to angel investors and venture capitalists, with LLNL possibly securing an equity holding. To learn more about the LLNL Business Plan Development Program, go to ipo.llnl.gov or contact me directly at jacobs6@llnl.gov.

Ralph R. Jacobs
Chief Technologist
Industrial Partnerships Office, LLNL
jacobs6@llnl.gov

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