November 24, 2008

Sandia entrepreneurial program is back

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The Entrepreneurial Separation to Transfer Technology (ESTT) program is back as an important part of Sandia National Laboratories’ technology transfer mission.

So says Hal Morgan, senior manager for Industrial Partnerships and Strategy.

The program — one that allows Sandia employees to leave the Labs to start up entrepreneurial companies or help expand small businesses that already exist and then return to the Labs two years later if the venture doesn’t work — was put on hold starting Dec. 21, 2007, to fully evaluate its effectiveness as a Sandia tech transfer tool and to improve the program’s underlying policy and procedure.

“ESTT came back on line October 15,” Morgan says. “We have potential improvements identified last year and believe ESTT is a lot better as a result and will be even more successful in transferring Sandia technology to industry. We will reevaluate the program in a year to make sure. ”

Two days after the program resumed Sandia employee, James Pacheco, took an entrepreneurial separation under the improved procedures. He joined a small start-up company in Pasadena, Calif., eSolar, that develops, constructs, and deploys modular, scalable solar thermal power plants.

Since ESTT was launched in 1994, 137 employees have left Sandia to start up 44 entrepreneurial companies and help expand an additional 46 companies. Fifty-five people started up businesses and 82 helped expand businesses. Sandia has negotiated 42 licenses with ESTT companies.

After a team spent several months evaluating the program, ESTT underwent several fundamental changes. In particular, says Dick Fairbanks, who manages the day-to-day operations of the program, there was a renewed emphasis on line management responsibilities. Management must agree, for instance, that the entrepreneurial option being proposed is the best tech transfer method to commercialize the particular technology under consideration. And, of course, the proposal must support Sandia’s tech transfer mission and business plans.

Exiting Sandians can participate in ESTT in two ways. They can take a technology they developed at Sandia, have it licensed, and start a new company. Or they can leave and go to an existing small business, taking their unique expertise with them.

Pacheco and Randy Normann represent both types of separations. James took the expertise he gained working at Sandia in the areas of concentrated solar power and access delay technology (research and development of security systems and technology) to a small Pasadena company. Normann left in April to start his own company, Perma Tools, a technology solutions and high-temperature electronics provider enabling new energy frontiers in ultra-deep natural gas production, steam flood assisted oil production and Enhanced Geothermal Systems (EGS). He obtained a license from Sandia for technology he developed while he worked at the Labs. Both men say taking the plunge to leave Sandia was a difficult and risky decision. Randy worked at Sandia for 23 years, and James for 22.

They are both starting out in their entrepreneurial ventures, but the program has had many successes in its decade and a half existence. Some include Tim Estes, Tom Brennan, Tom Anderson, and James Gee:

Sandia is a multiprogram laboratory operated by Sandia Corporation, a Lockheed Martin company, for the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration. With main facilities in Albuquerque, N.M., and Livermore, Calif., Sandia has major R&D responsibilities in national security, energy and environmental technologies, and economic competitiveness.

Sandia news media contact: Chris Burroughs,, 505-844-0948; Michael Padilla, 505-284-5325