How Laboratory researchers support New Mexico small businesses

Solving technical challenges with world-class expertise and capabilities

By David Moore | August 11, 2022

Mesa Photonics Nmsba Opt
The Santa Fe-based Mesa Photonics team hasdeveloped a portable, unique laser-pulse system that can be used to conduct a test for Severe Accurate Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

Running a small business comes with a lot of challenges – with limited resources, you might lack the technical expertise to prove your big idea works, or to streamline your processes to improve your business’ viability. 

But what if your business could call on the skills and capabilities of the world-class research laboratory in your backyard, for free? If you’re a small business owner in New Mexico, this is the reality, thanks to the New Mexico Small Business Assistance (NMSBA) Program.

The program provides New Mexico small businesses facing technical challenges access to the unique expertise of Los Alamos and Sandia national laboratories. At no cost to the business, they can seek assistance from Lab scientists and engineers to solve challenges and overcome barriers to company success. 

With the support of the State of New Mexico, since 2000, the two national laboratories have provided $71.7 million in technical assistance to 3,135 businesses, enabling 9,710 jobs to be created and retained across the state’s 33 counties.

Here are just two recent success stories involving Northern New Mexico businesses and Los Alamos National Laboratory researchers.

Using lasers to test for SARS 

Santa Fe-based Mesa Photonics manufactures and sells real-time ultrafast laser-pulse systems. Their team had developed a portable, unique laser-pulse system that can be used to conduct a test for Severe Accurate Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), a contagious and sometimes fatal respiratory illness caused by a coronavirus. 

To demonstrate proof-of-concept for this test, CEO and Founder Daniel J. Kane reached out to NMSBA, which paired him with Nileena Velappan and her team at LANL.

They evaluated the specificity of a protease substrate developed by the company, finding that the substrate was specific to the protease from SARS Cov2, and that it generated a signal 10 times higher than other commercial substrates. 

“Before receiving technical assistance through NMSBA, we were having difficulties funding this project,” says Frauke Rininsland of Mesa Photonics.  “The results that Los Alamos National Laboratory provided enabled us to demonstrate the feasibility of our innovative product, helping us to secure the funding to move the project into the next phase of development.”

With such valuable data in hand, Mesa Photonics was able to secure a Phase II Small Business Innovative Research grant worth $1.6 million to further improve this new SARS testing capability. 

The Laboratory team also saw benefits from the program. Velappan says that she and her team learned more about viral culture protocols, protease assay evaluation, and antibody staining of host factors used to evaluate viral infection. 

Saving homeowners money by preventing septic tank blockages

People who have septic tanks in their homes typically pay every year to have them pumped, removing excess waste and water residue that could block the septic system and lead to even more costly and time-consuming repairs.

To prevent clogs and eliminate the need for yearly maintenance of septic tanks, Bio-Stic in Farmington designed a treatment system (known as the Bio-Stic) that is easily installed on a toilet’s water tank, treating the septic system with every flush.

With Bio-Stic close to market, company owner Sean Casaus lacked data that demonstrated the efficiency and effectiveness of the unique chemical mix within the device. He reached out to NMSBA, who paired him with Shawn Robert Starkenburg at Los Alamos National Laboratory. 

Starkenburg and his team evaluated the efficacy of Bio-Stic for wastewater remediation, gaining an understanding of how the device influenced harmful bacteria, as well as the rate at which it broke down fats, oils, and grease from the wastewater.

With this data in hand, Bio-Stic can now provide customers with quantifiable data regarding the performance of the product, giving users a sense of security that the product performs as advertised. The company has since experienced a ten percent increase in sales.

“Working with the scientists and other specialists through NMSBA has enabled us to create new revenue streams not previously possible,” says Sean Casaus of Bio-Stic.

If you or a business you know could benefit from the New Mexico Small Business Assistance Program, you can learn more here.