Patenting, Supported by VAF Funding, is Key for Local Startup
Tibbar Plasma Technologies Leverages VAF Funding to Secure Intellectual Property
“A company is only worth what its intellectual property is worth,” said Dr. Richard Nebel, president of the Los Alamos-based startup Tibbar Plasma Technologies, Inc. “That’s what patenting is all about.”
For many early-stage technology companies, proof-of-concept is often more important than funding. Fortunately for Northern New Mexico companies like Dr. Nebel’s, both are available through the Venture Acceleration Fund (VAF) program.
The Regional Development Corporation (RDC), an economic development organization with a mission of creating high-paying jobs and attracting revenue in the Northern New Mexico region, has been the administrator of the VAF program since its inception in 2006.
When Tibbar Plasma Technologies emerged as a prime candidate for a VAF investment, Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Feynman Center for Innovation (FCI) alerted the RDC. FCI is the Laboratory’s Technology Transfer division. Nebel learned of the VAF opportunity from FCI staff, due to his long-standing relationship with the Laboratory.
The RDC stepped in after the company was awarded VAF funding by inviting them to attend workshops that addressed common business challenges, such as financial issues and understanding equity investment. The workshops were part of a grant from the US Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration (EDA), to help businesses understand what an investment from the VAF could mean for potential growth and to provide better post-award support to help portfolio companies succeed. Workshops attended by Tibbar employees included a finance workshop in July of 2016, and an Equity 101 workshop in September of 2016.
Dr. Nebel knew that he needed validation for the technology powering Tibbar Plasma Technologies, and the VAF provided that in the form of an award in 2016. The VAF is the only program in the region that provides seed money for early-stage technology startups and growth-oriented business who lack the collateral for debt financing. Funded primarily by Los Alamos National Security (LANS), the VAF receives additional funding support from Los Alamos County, Santa Fe County, City of Santa Fe Economic Development and New Mexico Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP).
The company is currently developing plasma-based AC to DC converters for commercial applications. According to the company’s website, a plasma is created when a gas absorbs enough energy to separate the electrons from the nuclei, making it susceptible to electric and magnetic fields. Tibbar Plasma Technologies’ simplified hardware uses no capacitors or semiconductor switches. The device will rely on helical coils that induce output current and voltage through electrodes at the ends of plasma.
This innovative technology will make long-distance transmission of electricity a lot more affordable, allowing increased access to renewable energy sources.
After receiving the funding from the VAF last fall, Tibbar Plasma Technologies engaged Rod Baker, a patent attorney based in Albuquerque. By the end of 2016, the company had filed five patents. There is currently another patent in the works, due to be completed by the end of this year. The company also received an ARPA-E contract that put up matching funds.
“Patenting adds to the net value of the company,” Nebel said. He advises other local tech startups to apply for VAF funding. “Go ahead and do it,” he said. “It’s been a real help for us.
Given that their goal was patenting, “we had a nice, concise project” to put the funding to use, said Nebel.
Tibbar Plasma Technologies is actively pursuing other funding and awards, as they estimate that scaling up to a large-scale manufacturing facility will require $50 million. The VAF investment was an important step in their plans for growth.