Fiscal Year Closes With Continued Momentum for Tech Launch Arizona

Since TLA started in 2012, the UA has met or exceeded its goals year over year and is seeing continued growth in the impact originally envisioned for the commercialization of research.
July 31, 2017

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." 

Startups

The 15 startups — new companies based on intellectual property generated from UA research — formed in fiscal 2017 include:

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.

Looking Ahead

"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 UAStartup 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."