Writer: Cassie McClure, firstname.lastname@example.org
They say it takes a village, and the village of investors in New Mexico would agree. New Mexico State University’s Arrowhead Innovation Fund has seeded investments across the state, and now one of its business investments, Osazda Energy LLC, has grown its own wings to receive more than $1.5 million in grants this year alone to develop their research in solar cells for photovoltaic systems.
“The Arrowhead Innovation Fund is an early stage seed capital fund for promising New Mexico startup companies,” said Carlos Murguia, AIF’s associate fund manager. “We look for ways to give a boost to companies or entities that can aid in the growth of entrepreneurship throughout the state.”
As a part of that village, AIF’s funding led to Osazda Energy through New Mexico roads by way of the New Mexico Start-Up Factory, a program of New Mexico Angels. The Angels are a group of roughly 70 investors who come together to invest in startups throughout the state. In particular, the Angels help encourage the development of university research into marketable ideas through its Start-Up Factory, an incubator the Angels set up in 2012 to commercialize promising technologies.
“We decided to invest into the venture creation platform of Start-Up Factory, which goes around the state and finds interesting intellectual property, licenses it and pair it up with executives and creates a company, thus keeping IP, talent and capital in New Mexico,” said Beto Pallares, AIF managing director. “We believe that it’s a good thing that by helping to invest with NM Angels’ on that platform, it gives the Arrowhead Innovation Fund shots at gold in terms of the companies we can work with and support.”
In this case, the gold from the sun. Scientists Sang M. Han from the University of New Mexico, and David Wilt from the Air Force Research Laboratory in New Mexico, created a composite material that meshes carbon nanotubes with silver, the standard metal used to conduct electricity in solar cells and modules. Han and Wilt called it MetZilla, or Godzilla-infused metal, which could potentially extend the life of solar panels to a minimum of 35 years and perhaps even up to 50 years.
But MetZilla needed a chance to conquer the market, a challenge that the New Mexico Angels recognized. It can be difficult to move university-developed technologies out into commercial markets, but if a company can buy a license for the patent of the invention, then it can make its way out into the world. In 2017, the Angels founded Osazda Energy LLC to take MetZilla to market through its Start-Up Factory.
Osazda Energy received $1.5 million in grants to further develop and prove their solar technology from the Durable Module Materials Consortium, or DuraMAT, which groups the U.S. Department of Energy’s national laboratories, research universities and solar manufacturers together in an alliance to build new materials and designs for photovoltaic modules.
At its early stages, Osazda Energy previously received a $150,000 Small Business Innovation Research grant from the Air Force, $50,000 in matching funds from the state Economic Development Department, and an undisclosed investment from the Angels. Small investments – like those early seed investments AIF sends out – helped bolster the company in front of other investors that allows MetZilla be able to tower over the competition.
AIF has commitments for a total investment of $800,000 from New Mexico’s Catalyst Fund, a $20 million “fund of funds” to support New Mexico companies, and $500,000 from the NMSU Foundation, as well as a $300,000 grant through the U.S. Economic Development Administration’s Regional Innovation Strategies program and other private investors.
AIF stands at $2 million in commitments and is looking for companies with entrepreneurs fully committed to growing and scaling their company and who are seeking between $25,000 and $150,000 in investment toward their total seed round fundraising target.