Region Forward Blog

Forum Seeks to Link Federal Labs Research with the Marketplace

Jun 20, 2016
Sandia's Solar Research

Sandia’s Solar Research (Sandia National Laboratories, Flickr)

Water and energy are a lifeblood of communities. Water infrastructure provides homes and businesses with clean, reliable water and removes and treats wastewater while also protecting area waterways. Reliable energy supply is needed around the clock to keep the lights on and the region moving.

Because water and energy infrastructures are central to daily life—and directly tied to metropolitan Washington’s growth and prosperity—area leaders are now considering how new technologies can support this growth by improving resiliency and efficiency in an environmentally responsible manner.

Innovative technologies and processes are being developed by thousands of scientists within a nationwide network of more than 300 federal laboratories, agencies, and research centers. Metropolitan Washington is home to the largest concentration of these labs, according to the Federal Laboratory Consortium for Technology Transfer (FLC). To better understand how area governments and utilities can utilize the R&D, scientific, and technological breakthroughs produced at federal labs for solving energy and water infrastructure challenges, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) and FLC hosted a Lab-to-Market Technology Forum on June 2.

“We don’t actually make things out of our research efforts in the federal government,” said Paul Zielinski, Federal Labs Consortium National Chairman, and Technology Partnerships Office Chief for the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). “We need private entrepreneurs and businesses to turn [research] into real products that can be deployed by water and electrical plants across the country to actually have an impact on society.”

Labs are tackling a range of challenges and questions—from water shortages to determining how climate change affects the availability of hydro or thermal electric power plants. According to Michael Hightower, a researcher at the New Mexico-based Sandia National Laboratories Energy Systems and forum presenter, researchers are also having to consider how best to mitigate security risks for energy and water infrastructures.

“Water and energy infrastructures are expensive to build,” said Hightower. “As improvements are considered for these infrastructures, it’s important to make changes that make it more cost effective to repair in the future and resilient to other challenges that arise.”

To illustrate one such challenge for attendees, cyber software company Mission Secure, Inc. recreated a mock malicious attack on a water supply network and demonstrated how they could thwart or prevent the attack using software.

The forum also sought to create connections between the labs and industry and infrastructure representatives.  Federal labs as diverse as the United States Army, Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Agriculture, Homeland Security, Department of Energy, United Stated Geological Survey and the National Institute of Standards presented technology developments and tips for working with their labs.

According to a serial entrepreneur Phillip Usatine, it can be challenging for lesser experienced entrepreneurs—or even a busy veteran entrepreneur—to know where to look for federal technologies available to take to market.

To accelerate the implementation of new technologies in the region and facilitate a tech transfer pipeline, Usatine and other entrepreneurs suggested that federal labs provide new entrepreneurs with more resources for “discoverability.”  The panel also pointed to the region’s unique business schools and universities as a critical piece of the lab-to-market conversation.

“There’s a lot of work to be done to get people and resources together in the right place,” said Abba Poliakoff, Attorney and NIST Entrepreneur in Residence.

Training entrepreneurs to determine whether a technology is a “research project or a business opportunity” will help start-ups to succeed, said Usataine, boosting the region’s culture of innovation and helping to diversify the region’s economy.

COG will continue to work with the FLC to identify economic development opportunities for linking research from the region’s federal laboratories with the marketplace.

Can your business benefit from working with a federal lab?  If so, contact COG or the FLC for help.

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