PARDON THE "GODFATHER" REFERENCE -- he's Italian -- but Michele Migliuolo likes to say he's a man with only one client.
It's a big one. As commercialization alliance manager at Innovation Works, Mr. Migliuolo is spearheading a cultural shift at the National Energy Technology Laboratory, where high-cost, high-risk and high-level research into fossil fuel technologies sets the standard for industries decades down the road.
Mr. Migliuolo was hired to help government scientists think like entrepreneurs -- or, in other words, to "think small and think quick."
Innovation Works is the lead commercialization partner for NETL's three national laboratories in Pittsburgh, Morgantown, W.Va., and Albany, Ore. Also part of the commercialization alliance are Innova Commercialization Group and the Mid-Atlantic Technology, Research & Innovation Center, both in West Virginia, and Oregon Best.
The effort began in March.
NETL's big ideas are everywhere in modern industry, from the way coal is mined and burned to how shale oil and gas is forced out of the ground.
Its small ideas are few and far between.
"National labs in general have a fairly poor track record of transferring technologies developed by taxpayer dollars into the commercial sector," said Kevin Donovan, program manager at URS Corp., NETL's site support contractor. "The success rate is not that good."
In the past 30 years, NETL has been issued 106 patents and has 15 active licenses. In 2011, the organization boasted that its technology, for the first time, directly inspired the launch of a local company, Pyrochem Catalyst of New Brighton, which spun out to commercialize a catalyst originally developed for fuel cells.
On a zero-to-10 scale of market readiness, NETL research peaks at seven, Mr. Donovan said. Venture capitalists, however, only get interested at nine or 10.
To fill the gap, often called "the valley of death," Mr. Donovan suggested NETL engage Innovation Works, which hired Mr. Migliuolo to lead the effort.
"I think of myself as a sales guy," Mr. Migliuolo said, and the opportunity to "sell" for NETL was too good to pass up. "I thought, this is screaming 'me.' "
Part of the appeal for NETL is Mr. Migliuolo's multidisciplinary career -- he started as a physicist researching high-temperature superconductors, then moved into sales at Clairton-based manufacturer Kurt J. Lesker, then founded two companies to commercialize technologies for medical surgeries.
For the past four months, Mr. Migliuolo has been traveling from Pittsburgh to Morgantown to Oregon, picking through NETL's portfolio, plotting licensing deals and spinoff companies for industries outside of NETL's traditional menu.
He can't talk specifics. Even though NETL's technologies are public -- there are 110 of them looking for a home, available for perusal on the agency's website -- alliance partners wouldn't give details about particular technologies they're working to commercialize.
Mr. Donovan put it in broad terms: "What we're really talking about is applications of materials in harsh environmental conditions -- high temperatures and high pressures. Those conditions exist in many industries outside of fossil fuels."
NETL, which replaced its director last week, has the hefty mission of developing technologies that ensure domestic energy security; protect the environment; and allow coal, natural gas and oil to be used for generations to come. It does that with a fluctuating, annually adjusted budget from Congress.
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