Sandia and Los Alamos labs help local companies overcome technical hurdles
The Saturday after Thanksgiving, known as Small Business Saturday, offers an opportunity every year to celebrate the jobs, helpful products and services, and economic wealth that small businesses bring to our communities. They must learn how to mitigate risk and quickly adapt to change — as witnessed now more than ever — and navigate critical challenges while they maintain or expand their operations. As they face these challenges, small businesses can turn to experts from the national labs for help.
In 2000, the New Mexico Legislature created the Laboratory Partnership with Small Business Tax Credit Act. As a result, Sandia established the New Mexico Small Business Assistance Program to provide technical support to small businesses throughout the state. Los Alamos National Laboratory began participating in 2007. Since the program’s inception, NMSBA has provided $76.1 million of technical assistance to over 3,200 businesses.
“For more than two decades, the NMSBA Program has helped New Mexico businesses create jobs, increase revenues, decrease operating costs and attract new funding opportunities,” said David Kistin, manager of Sandia’s Technology and Economic Development department.
Last year, hundreds of companies were able to test new product ideas, validate their technology or increase operational efficiency with the expertise and resources found at the labs and their contract partners. The top industries served were professional, scientific and technical services (41.5%); manufacturing (37.6%); and agriculture and natural resources (9.8%). The top capabilities used were manufacturing (20.6%), engineering (18.8%) and advanced modeling and simulation (12.8%).
A sampling of success
The NMSBA Perspectives Annual Report highlights ten successful projects from 2021, including three that Sandia supported:
Build With Robots Inc., Painting Bots Inc., FatPipe–Rio Rancho and the BioScience Center joined forces to develop disinfecting robots that could be used in facilities such as airports, schools and arenas. They received assistance from Sandia systems engineer Mark Kinnan and technologist Cathryn Mayes to create a testing matrix from which they could select a range of equipment and protocols for disinfecting processes. The Breezy One robot is used across the country to eliminate pathogens, allergens and asthma triggers. Breezy Blue, a similar but smaller disinfecting device, is being launched for situations where the larger robot cannot easily fit. The Disinfecting Robot Leveraged Project received the Honorable Speaker Ben Luján Award for Small Business Excellence for demonstrating the most economic impact, which included securing $5 million in funding and hiring 30 new employees.
Optical Radio Communications Technology, known as ORC Tech, obtained an exclusive license from NASA Johnson Space Center to adapt technology originally designed for lunar missions to improve cell coverage for people on Earth. To help optimize their cellphone antenna’s performance, ORC Tech paired with Sandia principal investigators Stephen Neidigk and John McVay, who conducted analytical modeling and fabricated a prototype at Sandia’s Sensors and Textiles Innovatively Tailored for Complex, High-efficiency Detection, or STITCHED, lab. With Sandia’s technical assistance, the company secured $125,000 in funding and created multiple job opportunities.
Just Health Care LLC, with the professional support of Ingenuity Software Labs and Lynn Technical Services LLC, developed a new technology called PainScan to quantify and map chronic pain patterns. Sandia mechanical engineer Jason Wheeler and his team helped the partners assess the effectiveness of available sensor technologies ideal for a clinical environment. The test results helped secure a $256,000 Small Business Innovation Research award from the National Science Foundation and enabled the companies to hire seven new employees.
Of the $4.36 million in technical assistance provided to 228 small businesses in 2021, Sandia worked with 130 companies across 22 counties and provided $2.4 million worth of assistance — the maximum dollar amount allowed annually for each laboratory. There were 68 Sandia principal investigators across 48 departments who supported the program. Researchers interested in participating can contact NMSBA Program Leader Genaro Montoya. Interested companies can submit a request for assistance through the NMSBA website and learn more about other opportunities to work with Sandia.