AFRL program matches technology, entrepreneurs

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KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. --

Private entrepreneurs will have a chance to commercialize Air Force Research Laboratory inventions with a new program.

AFRL New Mexico Lab Launch 2017 aims to match entrepreneurs with AFRL technology and help them get it to the commercial market. The lab’s local Tech Engagement Team is conducting information sessions on and off Kirtland Air Force Base.

The program represents the Air Force’s effort to become more proactive in working with industry to commercialize the technologies it develops, said AFRL Tech Engagement Lead Matt Fetrow at an on-base information session Oct. 4. He said the program is an experiment in creating licenses and companies.

“In any case, we’re going to take some lessons from this and see how it goes,” he said.

The inventions involved in Lab Launch are already patented or in the pipeline for a patent.

Matt O’Brien of the AFRL Tech Engagement Team said Lab Launch is meant to leverage lab resources and personnel to bolster the entrepreneurial culture in the community. He doesn’t expect pairing people with the inventions to be easy.

“That’s why we’re casting this wide net,” he said, urging listeners to help spread the word about the program.

The Tech Engagement Team is using various methods to inform the local small-business community of the program.

AFRL scientists and engineers can participate as technical advisers or new entrepreneurs, as their supervisors allow.

AFRL Tech Engagement Outreach Branch Chief Eunsook Hwang said business people would be involved along with people with technical expertise.

Potential entrepreneurs can join Lab Launch as individuals or as groups. AFRL-New Mexico Deputy Tech Engagement Lead Gabriel Mounce said program leaders would organize participants into teams after the introductory class.

People interested take two classes, one for two weeks and the other three weeks. They’re self-paced and online.

O’Brien said the courses, conducted by a private company called Wasabi Ventures, would give the Tech Engagement Team a feel for students’ backgrounds, expertise and commitment. They’ll also help pair participants with technology.

Jeff Abbott of Wasabi Ventures said the first class is an introduction to the program and open to anyone. In the second course, participants pick a technology and start to work on ideas and research.

Although participants don’t need to be experts in all areas, Lab Launch is not an entry-level educational experience.

“We really want to build successful companies,” Abbott said, explaining program leaders would select people who could hit the ground running. “This is for real.”

After the second course, organizers select teams to go on to the next part of Lab Launch. For six months, Wasabi Ventures will lead teams in researching whether their selected inventions have commercial potential and developing, testing and refining marketing strategy.

“You’re experimenting with customers, and you’re experimenting with what the technology can do and trying to find the right mix,” Abbott said.

At the end of the program, entrepreneurs will have a day to pitch ideas to investors.

“That last day is going to be a lot like ‘Shark Tank,’” O’Brien said, referring to a reality TV show.

After the program, funding is up to the entrepreneur teams.

Abbott said Lab Launch isn’t meant to compete with existing programs in the community but to provide an additional resource.

Wasabi Ventures has been working with the AFRL facility in Rome, New York, on a similar program for two years.

Abbott said everyone there is satisfied with the results and the program was recognized by the Federal Laboratory Consortium for Tech Transfer as the outstanding external contributor in the Northeast region.

For more information about the program, visit www.afrlnewmexico.com/lablaunch2017.