Tech Launch Arizona, the technology commercialization office of the University of Arizona, has reported record increases during fiscal 2016 (July 1, 2015, to June 30, 2016), and UA inventor engagement in technology commercialization activities has attained all-time highs as evidenced by key performance indicators. In addition to technology commercialization, the Tech Parks Arizona component of TLA also finished fiscal 2016 with record accomplishments.
"I am incredibly proud of the achievements that Tech Launch Arizona has had since its start with the advent of Vice President David Allen in September 2012," said UA President Ann Weaver Hart. "With almost 800 inventions disclosed, 30 startups from UA research, a growing ecosystem of technical experts, business partners, faculty, students and staff, TLA is helping to set a strong foundation for the University of Arizona's continuing social and economic impact."
Technology commercialization is a continuation of the research process. Advances in science, technology and medicine often produce opportunities for discoveries and research findings to be applied in a commercial setting and made available to the general public. The process starts with the disclosure of inventions and culminates with products created by companies that license UA intellectual property.
All told, TLA has achieved record increases since its inception nearly four years ago. For the period between July 1, 2015, and June 30, 2016, TLA reports:
- 250 invention disclosures, up from 213 in 2015 and 188 in 2014.
- 278 UA patents filed, up from 200 in 2015 and 188 in 2014.
- 97 total executed options and licenses, up from 83 in 2015 and 86 in 2014.
- 14 startups licensing UA technologies, up from 12 in 2015 and 11 in 2014.
- 27 asset development projects funded, up from 17 in 2015 and 17 in 2014.
"The performance increases are strong proof that UA technology commercialization has attained a turnaround and the future for impact from UA research and inventive activity is promising," Allen said. "The results also show that the TLA approach of integrating the Tucson community and UA alumni can bring technology domain knowledge and entrepreneurial experience to extend the fundamental inventive work of UA faculty."
The 14 startups — new companies based on intellectual property generated from UA research — formed in fiscal 2016 include:
- TetraGene LLC, focused on targeting secondary DNA structures to modulate expression of undruggable targets. Inventor and co-founder: Laurence Hurley, University of Arizona Cancer Center.
- Airy Optics Inc., commercializing a polarization ray tracing tensor method. Inventor and co-founder: Russell Chipman, College of Optical Sciences.
- Caltrode LLC, bringing to market a new type of sensor to work in high-temperature environments. Inventors: professor Dominic Gervasio and principal research specialist Hassan Elsentriecy from the Department of Chemical and Environmental Engineering, and Peiwen "Perry" Li from the Department of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering, College of Engineering.
- MetOxs Electrochemicals LLC, providing a toxin-free method for extracting copper from raw ore and similar procedures using molten salts. Inventors: Dominic Gervasio and Peiwen Li.
- Yumanity Therapeutics Inc., discovering new drugs for neurodegenerative disease. UA co-inventor: Leslie Gunantilaka, School of Natural Resources and the Environment and the BIO5 Institute.
- Akhu Therapeutics Inc., bringing to market a novel peptide-based technology to relieve acute depression. Inventors: research professor Minying Cai and professor Victor Hruby of the Hruby Peptide Group in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry of the UA College of Science and also of the BIO5 Institute.
- Promutech Pharmaceuticals Inc., providing a new treatment for acute myeloid leukemia. UA inventors: Hong-yu Li, professor in the UA College of Pharmacy, and Brendan Frett, graduate of the college and postdoctoral researcher.
- Hedgesmart LLC, commercializing a commodity price-risk management web application. Inventors: Roger Dahlgran, associate professor of agricultural and resource economics at the UA College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and Eller College of Management alumnus Vivek Kumar.
- Knowmad Technologies LLC, offering novel real-time brain chemistry measurement tools. Inventor: Michael Heien, assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry in the UA College of Science and the UA College of Medicine – Tucson.
- Anivive Lifesciences Inc., commercializing drugs that have been in human trials and repurposing them for veterinary applications. One example is PX866, a kinase inhibitor developed in the UA College of Medicine that is being repurposed to treat tumors in dogs.
- Horizon Biotechnologies LLC, commercializing a Phase II cancer drug called amuvatinib, an aurora kinase inhibitor. Inventors: professor Laurence Hurley of the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology in the UA College of Pharmacy, and Dr. Daruka Mahadevan, professor of medicine at the UA Cancer Center.
- Sharing Tribes LLC, a digital service platform that provides consumers novel ways to share goods and products and make a positive impact on their community. Inventor: Anita Bhappu, associate professor of retailing and consumer sciences, Norton School of Family and Consumer Sciences.
- Filmstacker LLC, launching a social media and video platform for creating, sharing and discussing online mini-documentaries. Inventors: video coordinator Cody Sheehy, senior web developer Jonathan Gibbs and web designer Craig Boesewetter, all of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Communications Cyber Technologies team.
- Language Canvas LLC, commercializing a series of computer-based foreign language education programs. Inventors: multiple instructors in the Critical Languages Program, UA College of Humanities.
National Science Foundation I-Corps Program
This year, TLA was selected as an NSF I-Corps Site, a program that provides individual project grants up to $2,250 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. The first cohort of seven teams completed the I-Corps curriculum in May, and a second cohort of 10 teams began the I-Corps program on June 24.
Tech Parks Arizona
Fiscal 2016 was another strong year for Tech Parks Arizona. The year was characterized by strong tenant demand and fulfillment at the UA Tech Park. Tech Parks Arizona has aligned its economic development activities with the University’s research strengths in fields such as 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. Key accomplishments for fiscal 2016 include:
- The Arizona Center for Innovation, or AzCI, a business incubator that operates as part of Tech Parks Arizona, served 15 new clients' startup companies in fiscaal 2016. AzCI also executed a statewide conference that helped inventors understand SBIR/STTR programs in order to access government funding for startups. The two-day conference brought industry representatives from across the nation to educate and meet individually with entrepreneurs.
- The Solar Zone at the UA Tech Park, one of the largest multi-technology solar demonstration sites in the United States, completed Phase One, power generation, with 10 companies testing and demonstrating a variety of solar technologies and generating 23 megawatts of power fed directly into the power grid. An additional 29 acres of land for testing and demonstration were made available at the Solar Zone, as well.
- Tech Parks Arizona operationalized the Global Advantage business attraction program, an international business attraction strategy. Through the program, TPA recruits businesses to the Tech Park by providing a business support program that offers market access assistance, business development, manufacturing assistance and product development. The team led recruitment trips to Israel and Germany, and executed client agreements with companies from Canada, Israel and Mexico.
- The UA Tech Park’s total impact on Arizona’s economy was $1.74 billion in 2015, and it continues to be a major employment center in the region with 40 tenant companies that employ more than 5,000 people. In 2015, UA Tech Park companies created more than 10,000 jobs in the regional economy, including direct, indirect and induced jobs. The vacancy rate is 5.5 percent and a total of 1,270,506 square feet are leased under the CRC leasehold. In fiscal 2016, the UA Tech Park increased its tenancy by 1,189,753 square feet and added three additional tenants.
Fiscal 2017 is expected to bring the completion of Tech Parks Arizona's funding strategy, along with finalization of the planning, design and initial construction activities for the Innovation and Technology Building at the UA Tech Park at The Bridges.
"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," said Bruce Wright, associate vice president for Tech Parks Arizona.
Challenges and Opportunities
"As superb as the IP and licensing performance is, it represents a double-edged sword," Allen said of the group's accomplishments. "On one hand, we are building inventor relationships and connections with technology and business expertise and bringing UA research into the commercial world at levels far exceeding UA’s past performance. On the other hand, we will be challenged to sustain a high level of activity in an increasingly austere financial environment for the UA. The opportunity is for UA to become an ever-bigger contributor to the regional innovation ecosystem and to be an even more significant force in the creation of new businesses and technology-related employment. I think we have shown that realization of that opportunity doesn't occur by happenstance or without expense, but that positive progress can be made in a relatively short timeframe."