The meaning and drive behind our state’s most compelling and brave tech start-ups
“We are at a point now where we can build something rather than burn something.” Murat Okandan, PhD, Chief Operating Officer, mPower
In more ways than one it is perplexing to consider leaving a long-term career at one of the nation’s premiere national laboratories to enter the rough-and-tumble waters of a start-up. But for some—like Murat Okandan, PhD—entrepreneurship is the chosen path when research from behind the fence can change the way the world works outside.
On October 11, 2016, some of New Mexico’s most compelling tech ventures and discoveries took the stage at Innovate New Mexico’s Technology Showcase. The day-long event included pitches, panels and display tables highlighting research and technology opportunities, start-up companies and economic development resources from leading research institutions in New Mexico.
Former Sandian Murat Okandan, PhD, was one of the lunchtime panelists at the Showcase. Dr. Okandan’s sixteen-year career at Sandia National Labs in microsystems and solar technologies forms the foundation for his entrepreneurial venture, mPower. The start-up is commercializing Sandia’s MEPV technology, which uses microdesign and microfabrication techniques to produce miniaturized solar cells, sometimes called “solar glitter” for their resemblance. Without getting too lost in technicalities, this “solar glitter” makes solar power literally flexible, so it is more convenient and its application more versatile.
Dr. Okandan’s belief that this technology can transform the energy landscape worldwide is a handy compass when he’s faced with the challenges inherent to the start-up process. He said, “[I left Sandia National Labs] just about a year and a half ago after entrepreneurial separation for two years. That provides actually really good benefit in terms of reducing some of the risk in taking a… it’s a fairly risky venture no matter how you look at it … But if you’re worrying about the ultimate financial outcome, it isn’t going to cut it. It is the excitement about whatever it is that drives things forward.”
While all five start-ups on the lunchtime panel cited a number of support programs and resources as critical to their success so far, Dr. Okandan is hoping for a “critical density” of entrepreneurial activity in Albuquerque. He said, “I have quite a few colleagues that want to do things too, but what I’m finding is that in Silicon Valley or other places there is a richer network that you can tap into and things happen a lot more quickly. I think that is starting to happen here as well, but just like solar power, it has to get into place quicker.”
CONNECT THE DOTS
Living Cities initially chose Albuquerque because of our potential to commercialize technologies from research institutions and laboratories. The entrepreneurial separation Dr. Okandan mentioned is one of Albuquerque’s Integration Initiative strategies to increase commercialization and to create jobs.