Tech Launch Arizona, the technology commercialization office of the University of Arizona, reports across-the-board increases in startup companies, licenses agreements for UA technology, invention disclosures and patent filings for fiscal 2017 (July 1, 2016, to June 30, 2017). Tech Parks Arizona also grew over the same period, with new client agreements with companies from Israel, Mexico and the U.S. and increased occupancy rates for a total of 44 companies who employ more than 5,990 people — a 9.9 percent increase over the previous year.
All told, TLA has achieved record increases since its inception five years ago. For the period between July 1, 2016, and June 30, 2017, TLA reports:
- 261 invention disclosures, up from 250 in 2016, 213 in 2015 and 188 in 2014.
- 334 U.S. patents filed, up from 278 in 2016, 200 in 2015 and 188 in 2014.
- 105 total executed licenses and options, up from 97 in 2016, 83 in 2015 and 86 in 2014.
- 15 startup licensee companies formed, up from 14 in 2016, 12 in 2015 and 11 in 2014.
"The inventions, licenses and new companies that TLA has helped bring to life over the past five years are incredible examples of the potential for the University of Arizona to help create a bright future for Arizona as the Fourth Industrial Revolution takes hold," said UA President Robert C. Robbins. "I'm very excited to work with TLA and the UA's partners to continue this momentum and ensure that we unlock this potential for the good of people around the world."
The 15 startups — new companies based on intellectual property generated from UA research — formed in fiscal 2017 include:
- Acrete Pte. Ltd., commercializing a three-ingredient concrete replacement material using fly ash, invented by Jihnhong Zhang, associate professor of mining and geological engineering, and Qingming Feng, a graduate student at the time.
- Avery Therapeutics Inc., advancing cell-based tissue engineered therapeutics to treat heart failure, invented by Dr. Steven Goldman of the UA Sarver Heart Center and Jordan Lancaster.
- Catalina Pharma Inc., developing a TRPV1-inhibitor as treatment for anesthesia-induced hypothermia, invented by Dr. Amol Patwardhan, assistant professor in the Department of Anesthesiology and Pharmacology in the UA College of Medicine - Tucson, and Frank Porreca, associate department head of pharmacology in the UA Cancer Center.
- Coherent Light Science, commercializing software for FPGA and ASIC chips, for research in optical network technologies, invented by Stanley Johnson and Molorad Cvijetic, professor in the UA College of Optical Sciences.
- Desert Saber, developing interactive training software applications for the mining industry, created by Leonard Brown and Mary Poulton, director of the Lowell Institute for Mineral Resources.
- Entemia, bringing to market an ArizonaMED learning management system developed by senior applications systems analyst/developer Fermin Martinez Gregoso and Marcus Bates of the College of Medicine - Tucson.
- FishTail Technologies, which has licensed a tool to integrate student information systems and learning management systems developed by a team from the UA Office of Instruction and Assessment and University Information Technology, including Adam Brokamp, David Baty, Jayaram Timsina and Alexander Angeles from UAIT and Mark Felix, Garrett Flora and Mark Bryant from OIA.
- Helm Technologies, commercializing a UA-invented small animal cage divider invented by Jonathan Lifshitz, associate professor and director of translational neurotrauma research in the UA College of Medicine - Phoenix, and Bret Tallent, Phoenix Children's Hospital research laboratory manager.
- LUM.AI, commercializing natural language processing software that enables the searching of large amounts of data based on causal relationships, invented by Gustav Hahn-Powell, Ph.D. candidate in the UA Department of Linguistics, associate professor of computer science Mihai Surdeanu and Marco Valenzuela, postdoctoral research associate in the UA College of Science.
- Lunewave Inc., bringing to market a new radar using a 3-D-printed Luneburg lens invented by Hao Xin, professor in the UA Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.
- MAGPI, commercializing a multichannel magnetic phase reconstruction to improve the precision and robustness of MRI images, developed by Joseph Dagher, formerly of UA Electrical and Computer Engineering, Biomedical Engineering and Medical Imaging.
- Nanosonic Bioreagents, manufacturing reagents with applications in sample preparation for high-throughput DNA sequencing, medical imaging, and clinical therapy in conjunction with chemotherapy and ablation therapy, co-invented by Terry Matsunaga of the UA Cancer Center and the College of Medicine - Tucson.
- Palo Verde Networks, Inc., a digital networks startup that is developing improved SDN programmability enabling real-time response to changing network conditions, with applications for 5G mobile, Edge Computing, massive data transfers and Cloud Services, invented by Dan Kilper, research professor in the College of Optical Sciences.
- TPhotonics Inc., developing a tunable, pulsed, mid-IR VECSEL laser invented in the College of Optical Sciences by Mahmoud Fallahi, professor of optical sciences; Chris Hessenius, research professor in optical sciences; and Michal Lokowski, postdoctoral researcher in optical sciences.
- VAP Media, offering a variety of media for both educational and entertainment use, developed by Norman Weinberg, professor in the UA Fred Fox School of Music.
National Science Foundation I-Corps Program
As an NSF I-Corps Site, TLA offers a program that provides individual project grants up to $3,000 to help entrepreneurial teams with innovative technologies identify their customers and get to know those prospective customers' priorities. In total, the NSF grant provides TLA with annual funding for three years to distribute to 30 selected I-Corps applicant teams each year. Teams typically consist of an inventor/academic lead, an entrepreneurial lead and a business mentor. In fiscal 2017, 39 teams went through the program.
Tech Parks Arizona
Fiscal 2017 was another strong year for the Tech Parks as well, characterized by strong tenant demand and fulfilment at the UA Tech Park. TPA has aligned its economic development activities with the University's research strengths in advanced energy; mining technology; defense and security; bioscience; and agriculture arid lands and water. It also spans multiple industry sectors such as sustainability, optics and imaging, advanced manufacturing and informatics.
The TPA Global Advantage, or GA, program continues to attract domestic and international businesses to partner with the UA. Fiscal 2017 saw the dedication of new GA offices at the UA Tech Park and new client agreements with companies from Israel, Mexico and the U.S.
This year, TPA will continue to pursue expansion, with completion of the funding strategy, planning, design and initial construction of the Innovation and Technology Building at the UA Tech Park at The Bridges. At the UA Tech Park at Rita Road, TPA also is working toward implementation of The Village at the UA Tech Park, a 175-acre, mixed-use development that includes retail, commercial, residential and hotel development.
The Solar Zone, one of the largest multitechnology solar demonstration sites in the U.S., initiated research and development focused on energy storage and grid optimization. In 2017, TPA opened the Iron Horse Energy Storage and Solar Project, the first grid-connected lithium battery system project in North America, sponsored by E.On. Energy storage systems such as Iron Horse allow utilities such as Tucson Electric Power to use renewable resources more effectively and efficiently within their electric grid.
Arizona Center for Innovation
The Arizona Center for Innovation, or AzCI, a business incubator that operates as part of TPA, served 13 new clients startup companies in fiscal 2017, most of which have an affiliation with the UA. That roster includes a number of UA startups commercializing inventions born out of University research labs, including Codelucida, Sharing Tribes, Synactix Pharmaceuticals, Lunewave and FreeFall.
Including AzCI, TPA has taken on a number of initiatives to engage the community and enhance opportunities for faculty, students and businesses across the region, from holding a statewide conference to help inventors understand SBIR/STTR programs, to organizing its "Building Our Workforce Through Engineering, Science, Technology, Entrepreneurship, Arts and Mathematics" (ESTEAM) program to address southern Arizona's workforce shortage. TPA continues to engage community members of all ages via programs such as the BESST Program (Building Experiential Skilled Student Talent), Racing the Sun, Art in the Park and Next Steps for Vets.
"The integration of the Tech Parks with Tech Launch Arizona has strengthened the University's technology commercialization process over the past four years. This unification is allowing technology to advance rapidly by moving ideas from research to proof-of-concept to testing and validation and ultimately into the marketplace by providing the expertise, development platform and resources necessary for a robust entrepreneurial ecosystem," says Bruce Wright, associate vice president for Tech Parks Arizona.
"We are delighted to see the response of the UA research community to the commercialization services we've developed," says TLA Vice President David Allen. "Continued invention growth has enabled TLA to build a network of domain experts and commercialization partners who bear witness to UA as a dynamic socket for innovation and commercialization opportunity."
He says the office has an updated set of objectives — as well as a number of challenges to overcome — in fiscal 2018.
"By combining a core ability to identify, protect and package nascent technology with a responsive network composed of UA alumni and friends, we have developed and scaled a nationally recognized engine for university commercialization," Allen says. "Maintaining the level of growth we've seen over the past few years will be a challenge, but our increased recognition will help attract the attention and resources necessary to make it happen."
Allen remains confident, saying that this year TLA would continue to capitalize on its success by launching a venture capital seed fund to help support UA-related startups.
The office plans to continue to deepen and broaden its collaborations across the ecosystem to develop the UA and Tucson as a regional innovation hub. Partners in these efforts include Innovate UA, Startup Tucson, the McGuire Center for Entrepreneurship, the Arizona Center for Accelerated Biomedical Innovation and UA Research, Discovery and Innovation, among others.
"We're going to continue to streamline our processes, engage inventors and develop external participation on the work of commercialization," Allen says. "By bringing the UA's wicked cool inventions to the world, we contribute to realizing the vision of research creating impact."