Rutgers Researchers Pivot to Green Entrepreneurs, Tackling Wind Energy Industry

By Jeanne Gray, American Entrepreneurship Today

For some entrepreneurs the decision to begin a startup may not have been on their drawing board until the right opportunity is presented. Take for example green entrepreneur Arturo Villegas, co-inventor of deflector technology and co-founder of XPEED Turbine Technology (XTT).  XTT is a startup founded on technology licensed from Rutgers University that is making wind energy more competitive by improving the efficiency of wind turbines. The company’s mission is to reduce the cost of this energy so that it is more attractive to consumers compared to other non-renewable energy sources.

Dr. Arturo Villegas and his co-founder Prof. Javier Diez are attempting to change the wind industry and society.  They are expanding the research they started at Rutgers University to bring it directly into the wind industry.

But Villegas was well committed to a research career, before he made the difficult decision to start XTT, following the receipt of his PhD from Rutgers in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering in May 2014.

“The technology we use at XTT is one of the discoveries we made during my time at Rutgers,” explains Villegas. “We started working on a series of experiments at Rutgers University about 6 years ago for water channel and wind tunnel turbine research”.

Speaking somewhat technically Villegas described how he and his co-founder were looking at turbine wake characterization and a novel method to non-intrusively measure forces of turbine blades. They discovered a large amount of radial flow close to the blade surface that was not contributing to creating torque.  In short, they found something revealing that put their investigation onto flow deflectors that led them to their innovative cost saving technology.

“We then realized that we had something that can be of great use for the wind industry, so we decided to start the company and applied for seed funding from the National Science Foundation,” said Villegas.

They received initial funding from the Center for Advanced Infrastructure and Transportation at Rutgers to perform field testing of a small commercial turbine at Appalachian University North Carolina Wind Energy Center and had very successful results.  Soon after XTT was awarded an NSF Small Business Innovation and Research Phase I grant and began testing at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) Regional Testing Centers in Utah, Windward Engineering. With similar positive results XTT was awarded an NSF SBIR Phase II grant to help commercialize the technology.

Hard work, an innovative discovery, and timely funding put Villegas solidly onto the entrepreneurial path.

Villegas acknowledges the great support received from Rutgers Office of Commercialization which helped with the filing of a provisional patent quickly after their first findings. Rutgers then filed an international PCT patent and soon after they received interest from major wind energy players including General Electric.  Villegas and Diez were particularly pleased with the help Rutgers provided in connecting them with the “players” in the wind industry.

XTT now has an exclusive license agreement with Rutgers University to use the patent-pending technology.  The U.S. is their initial target market, but they will be expanding internationally over the next 3-5 years to reach other wind energy markets. Their goal is to have as many as 10% of all turbines around the world using their technology.

Villegas expresses his almost limitless passion for aerodynamic R&D.  When he saw the real commercial application of the technology it propelled him to take the chance of bringing it to market.  He is driven by the belief that his technology will impact the wind industry by lowering costs to the consumer, creating a lot of jobs, and improving US energy security.  He sees it as a great alternative renewable energy source versus coal because it reduces gas emissions.

Professionally, the green startup is a huge opportunity for Villegas. It allows him to do research and development of wind turbines, work on startup related management tasks, and make lots of connections and partners.  His own philosophy puts him in the center of all activities—including sales where he feels the entrepreneur’s passion needs to be out front.

“This venture is for me,” Villegas sums up. “I get to do what I love (aerodynamic R&D) while making a change. It also has the advantage of starting a business from the ground up and that makes you a better entrepreneur as you learn.  It brings incredible personal growth by getting you out of your comfort zone”.

Villegas prizes the intangibles of having a startup that are not readily seen and appreciated.  At the outset of his venture he was looking at a research drawing board and assessing mostly technical advantages. Having passed so many key milestones, he believes there is an X factor to be considered---and that is the great personal satisfaction one receives from such hard work and achievement.


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