TECH: Rutgers Engineers launch wind farm manufacturing company
Arturo Villegas does not have a set daily schedule or tons of money in his pockets at all times, but the recent Rutgers graduate is passionate about the work he does day in and day out.
After receiving his doctorate degree in aerospace engineering from Rutgers in 2014, Villegas co-founded the wind turbine production company XPEED Turbine Technology, which develops new technology to reduce the cost of wind energy by improving turbine efficiency. The work that Villegas does could increase annual energy production.
“(It is) very important when you start a business is to remain focused on your objective and why you are doing this. As a CEO of a startup company you need to analyze and sort tasks/talks to focus on the most important/beneficial ones," said Villegas, who is also the Chief Executive Officer at XPEED.
Javier Diez, XPEED's co-founder, is an associate professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at the University. Through the course of their research, XPEED made simple modifications to the blade of wind turbines.
Villegas said that XPEED'S mission is to reduce dependence on non-renewable energies by making wind energy more competitive and generate cleaner energy.
“We actually established a company because we want to connect our research that we have done at Rutgers University with the wind industry,” Villegas said.
In looking into wind turbines, the two researched radial flow, which is the flow from the root to the tip. The two found a way to optimize that flow to produce greater amounts of energy and torque, which would lead to a greater level of power production.
The two then patented the configurations they discovered.
Rutgers helped in Diez and Villegas create the patent and contact companies in the wind industry.
XPEED applied for funding with the National Science Foundation’s Small Business Innovation Research program — a program that involves small businesses and innovative research, Villegas said. The co-founders are in the process of applying for the second phase of NSF funding.
While at Rutgers, XPEED received funding from the Center for Advanced Infrastructure and Transportation, he said. With that funding, the company was able to field-test their system outside of a University environment.
XPEED is in the process of collaborating with national renewable wind companies, having had several discussions with factory owners regarding the valuation of the technology on their turbines, Villegas said.
Villegas and Diez aim to give demonstrations to national renewable companies with the hope of adding deflectors on their turbines.
Diez and Villegas were 1 of 2 Rutgers inventors who presented their product in University Startup Demo Day, an event in the U.S. Capitol Building for members of Congress and staff, according to the School of Engineering website.
Villegas said the conference was competitive, noting the many great technologies present. While most technologies were involved in biotechnology and biomedical companies, XPEED was one of the only wind industry products.
Even after the conference, Villegas said the two remained in contact with investors.
Christopher Pflaum, a venture analyst in the Rutgers Office of Research Commercialization, said his group had meetings with start-up companies and Congressmen. The Office of Research Commercialization looks to support faculty members and entrepreneurs in commercializing Rutgers research, he said.
Analysts within the office shared with Congressmen how tax money will benefit technology and spoke about continuing support at universities, Villegas said.
Pflaum said Congress is aware of a funding gap. The government is good at giving funding for high-risk and basic research.
Once technology inches closer to becoming products for consumption government funding disappears, he said. Start-up companies emerge out of this need for funding.
When a technology is ready to go from the lab to market place, but there is no funding, Pflaum said this gap the "Valley of Death." The only way to receive funding is to launch a start-up company and make investors excited about the product, Pflaum said.
XPEED's products are targeted to existing wind farm owners. Pflaum said existing turbines need to be halted and maintained every few years. The company will convince operators to attach their product during these maintenance periods since the machines will be offline anyway.
Pflaum also said that might be of good value for researchers to register for a few introductory business classes so they can be more prepares before starting the company.
When asked for advice on starting a company, Villegas said that those who have a passion should stick with that passion even though it will take hard work. He encourages people to build their network and find a mentor.
Pragya Hooda is a School of Engineering sophomore majoring in biomedical engineering. She is a contributing writer for The Daily Targum.