Zircle, Brennan, and Sandia: A new kind of partnership
Zircle LP, a technology innovation group, is a novel economic development model founded by former Sandian Tom Brennan and business partner Mark Benak. Both are successful entrepreneurs, and Tom told Sandia President Paul Robinson one of his motivations is to give something back to Sandia. "I am a Sandian," he said at the "historic" signing of a partnership agreement between Sandia and Zircle May 21, with New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson looking on. Zircle is a select group of entrepreneurs that will create and manage a pool of equity capital (the target is $50 million in private and state funds) with its partners, in this case Sandia. Zircle will work with Sandia to identify Labs technologies and market needs that create business opportunities best executed through start-up companies. Sandia, Zircle, the State of New Mexico, and Strategic Limited Partners (corporate partners who will invest in the technologies for potential acquisition or supplier objectives) will share in the ownership of these new ventures based upon their financial and technological investments. "Unlike venture capital firms, Zircle does not invest in other people’s ventures," says Brennan. "We build our own, using a pool of working capital provided by our investors, and technology supplied by our lab partners. You might say that our philosophy is entrepreneur-centric, rather than capital-centric." Brennan says Zircle will focus its technology commercialization efforts in "hardware" products focused in technologies for defense, energy, communications, and medical applications. "Zircle is a new national model for economic development," New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson said at the signing ceremony at Sandia. "The bottom line is that Zircle will directly financially benefit the national labs, the scientists, the technology industry, the State of New Mexico, our workforce, our communities, and our educators." "I have a feeling that this will be a very historic moment five to 10 years from now," Rick Homans, Secretary of the New Mexico Economic Development Department, said. Homans said the Zircle approach is an opportunity to build new businesses in New Mexico, taking advantage of the "technology gold mine the state is sitting on," with $3 billion of research under way up and down the Rio Grande corridor. "It is time to bring all this together and take the state to a whole new level. That’s what Zircle is all about." Tom Brennan, one of the managing general partners (with Mark Benak) in Zircle LP, was a senior member of technical staff at Sandia from 1986 to 1996, when he left to found MicroOptical Devices (MODE) in Albuquerque. MODE was based on Sandia-licensed compound semiconductors used in manufacturing vertical cavity surface-emitting laser (VCSEL) components. EMCORE Corporation, a Sandia strategic partner and major employer in the Sandia Science and Technology Park, acquired MODE in December 1997.