An effort that began in 2012 to bring a life sciences business incubator to Oro Valley is heading to the finish line thanks to dozens of community and industry partners as well as the University of Arizona.
The University of Arizona Center for Innovation at Oro Valley, which is expected to open in June 2020, can help make the town a life sciences hub. The incubator will be home to select startup companies and give them access to lab space, equipment and other resources in an effort to boost economic development.
Ray Woosley, founding president of AZCert, a nonprofit focused on the safe use of medicine, said the idea began with a 2012 trip by local industry and community leaders to San Diego to study the city’s thriving biotech and life sciences industries. Woosley, who is also a professor of biomedical informatics and medicine at the UA College of Medicine — Phoenix, said that trip brought the need for an incubator to light.
“Biotech startups require years of research and development before they can market a product, usually due to the need for Food and Drug Administration approval,” Woosley said. “They cannot afford those costs or the delay without a nurturing environment such as that provided by incubators.”
Woosley helped form a nonprofit in 2013, ultimately named Oro Valley Innovation Labs, to push the idea. Navigating through multiple stops and starts, OVIL was able to secure financial support from Oro Valley and Pima County, as well as time and resources from dozens of companies and organizations.
Tech Parks Arizona held a groundbreaking ceremony for the facility this month.
“I talk a lot about the Fourth Industrial Revolution at the university. It’s really the convergence of physical, biological and data sciences. Inside this building will be the Fourth Industrial Revolution,” UA President Robert C. Robbins, who is also a member of the OVIL board, said at the groundbreaking. “When we do translate fundamental discoveries into new commercializable products, we have to bring that out of the university, and we have to have a place for them to live. They have to have a space for their company to grow, and this will be one of those spaces. And, we’ll be surrounded by other like-minded individuals that will continue to help this community grow and this network prosper.”
The facility will be part of the Tech Parks Arizona incubator system, which currently includes the UA Tech Park at Rita Road, the Arizona Center for Innovation and the UA Tech Park at The Bridges. The Tech Parks aim to help technology companies grow, attract talent and commercialize technology.
Carol Stewart, associate vice president of Tech Parks Arizona, said clients will have access to lab space and equipment, as well as industry expertise and business coaches. She said the original OVIL original board of directors will serve as a science advisory council for the facility.
“Incubation is not for the faint of heart, and it takes a community to raise and maintain an incubator,” Stewart said. “Supporters from all levels and industry are necessary to execute the proper incuabtion program.”
Construction on the new 4,000 square-foot building is set to begin in October. Pima County initially contributed $10,000 to the effort, then matched Oro Valley's $50,000 pledge with an additional $50,000.
“There has been resounding support,” Oro Valley Mayor Joe Winfield said. “It took all of these partners working together. This is one of those stories where Oro Valley couldn’t have done it by itself, so it was a partnership coming together to help make this happen.”
Paul August, vice president of discovery at ICAGEN in Tucson and chairman of the board for OVIL, said the incubator will provide much-needed lab space for life science companies in Oro Valley and be a catalyst for high-paying jobs.
“These types of jobs bring the type of community members people want – smart, well-educated scientists that care about their community,” August said.