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SANTA FE – Old electric vehicle batteries could soon provide backup storage power for renewable generation systems through a local startup, UpCycle Power, which plans to repurpose used car batteries for clean-energy markets.
The company won a $5,000 first-place prize last March at Arrowhead Innovation Fund’s 2021 pitch competition at New Mexico State University after UpCycle founder Sydney Lienemann received in-depth mentoring and assistance from NMSU to turn her innovative idea into a marketable product.
The first-time entrepreneur attended an “EnergySprint” business accelerator run by NMSU’s Arrowhead Center to develop business skills and identify potential markets and customers. She’s now working with NMSU’s Federal and State Technology Partnership Program to obtain government funding to further develop her battery-recycling process. And she’s received product prototyping assistance from the Foster Innovation Exchange at NMSU’s College of Engineering.
Those programs helped Lienemann refine her idea into an impactful pitch to judges at the March competition, said Arrowhead Innovation Fund Manager Beto Pallares.
“She’s really beefed up her business skills,” Pallares told the Journal. “She’s very well prepared. It’s still an early-stage company, but we’re tracking it closely.”
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A lot more startups with clean-energy products and services like UpCycle could receive comprehensive assistance, and possibly funding, to accelerate their march to market through a new, federally-funded program to create a “clean energy cluster” of startup companies. NMSU’s Arrowhead Center, which manages all of the university’s entrepreneurship and technology-transfer programs, received a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy in June to build out a New Mexico Clean Energy Resilience and Growth Cluster, or NM CERG, at Arrowhead, said Arrowhead Deputy Director Dana Catron.
Sandia National Laboratories and Los Alamos National Laboratory will collaborate on the project with lab resources and technical assistance for startups to develop, test and prove their technologies. And the state Economic Development Department will participate as well, helping to recruit companies, experts and resources to build the cluster, Catron said.
“We’re targeting 75 to 100 startup entrepreneurs,” Catron told the Journal. “When they come out of the program, they’ll be investment ready.”
NMSU will guide CERG participants through Arrowhead’s myriad of entrepreneurship and startup-development programs, aligning the companies with the particular education and training services they most need.
Sandia and LANL will channel CERG startups through the NM Small Business Assistance, or SBA program, and through the Lab Embedded Entrepreneur, or LEEP, program. SBA offers grants to companies to pay for lab assistance, while LEEP provides innovators with stipends to work directly in the labs with engineers and scientists.
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The new federal grant is part of the Energy Program for Innovation Clusters, or EPIC, run by the DOE’s Office of Technology Transitions. The DOE announced $9.5 million in awards in June to help build new technology clusters through incubator and accelerator programs at ten different sites around the U.S., including Arrowhead.
NMSU received a $50,000 EPIC grant last fall to begin building a new, clean-energy-focused program, allowing Arrowhead to schedule two energy-specific accelerator cohorts for this year and next.
The new grant allows Arrowhead to significantly broaden those efforts, reaching a lot more startup companies over the next three years. It will culminate in a pitch competition for CERG graduates to present to investors from across the country, Catron said.
Arrowhead is uniquely primed to manage the cluster-development program. For one thing, the center already launched an “EnergySprint” accelerator last year for companies with new clean-energy products and services as part of the Innovation and Commercialization for a Regional Workforce, or iCREW project. That program, backed by a $750,000 grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration, aims to help local communities tap into the state’s emerging green energy economy to promote business development and job creation.
Perhaps most important, Arrowhead has built its entrepreneurial programs in recent years into a formidable array of services that provide education, hands-on training, technical assistance and even funding for startup companies across the state.
Previous EDA funding already helped Arrowhead extend its services to rural and urban areas with virtual programming, and through direct service centers it established at 18 sites around New Mexico. Then, the pandemic boosted NMSU’s statewide deployment when everything moved online, said Arrowhead Director Kathryn Renner Hansen.
“When the pandemic started, we were perfectly situated to deliver services virtually from Las Cruces,” Hansen told the Journal. “With everyone operating online, we were able to strengthen and extend our reach to many more people.”
The Arrowhead Innovation Fund also continued to invest in startup companies during the pandemic. The $2 million fund, which includes an $800,000 commitment from the State Investment Council, has so far pumped $1.25 million into 16 startups across the state, Beto Pallares said.
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That includes new investments since January in a number of Albuquerque companies, such as TNeuroPharma — a new startup that’s developing potentially breakthrough medical technology to diagnose Alzheimer’s with a simple blood test and possibly slow its progression.
With Arrowhead’s statewide network now firmly in place, NMSU can work seamlessly in direct partnership with other agencies around New Mexico to help build the state’s startup economy.
“The DOE grant will allow us to team up with the two national labs and the Economic Development Department to execute the new cluster-development program,” Hansen said. “The key here is ‘teaming.’ The pandemic really created stronger relationships and more meaningful collaboration through virtual networking among everyone in New Mexico.”
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