UA Marks Second Record Year in Tech Commercialization

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

TUCSON, Ariz. – In completing its second full year of operations, Tech Launch Arizona, the office of the UA that commercializes the inventions emanating from research to create social and economic impact, reports that as of the fiscal year’s June 30 close, it has achieved all of its performance metrics defined by the Arizona Board of Regents (ABOR). In direct support of the Never Settle strategic plan of the University of Arizona, these metrics not only represent increases over the previous year, but also mark all-time-highs for Arizona’s 21st century land-grant university.

“As Arizona’s land-grant university,” says UA President Ann Weaver Hart, “the University of Arizona is absolutely committed to creating improved prospects and enriched lives for the people of our state and the world. Expanding the UA’s impact through technology innovation, research translation, and economic development is an integral part of this mission, and the success of Tech Launch Arizona over the past two years is an important indicator of what is possible through our Never Settle plan. TLA’s innovation ecosystem provides exceptional opportunities for research application, partnership, and student engagement, and I very much look forward to the many innovations and opportunities that will emerge in what promises to be a remarkable third year of operations.”

TLA reports the following accomplishments achieved between July 1, 2014 and June 30, 2015:

  • 213 invention disclosures (up from 188 in FY 2014);
  • 99 provisional and 89 utility patents filed (up from 92 and 61, respectively in FY 2014);
  • 45 exclusive license and option agreements (up from 39 in FY 2014); including non-exclusives, TLA executed 83 total agreements;
  • 12 startup licensee companies formed (up from 11 in FY 2014), with a greater percentage as investable than the previous year;
  • 17 proof-of-concept awards made to validate the correspondence of inventions to market drivers;
  • 35 patents issued (up from 24 in 2014);
  • Over $2.1M in revenue from royalties and patent reimbursements for intellectual property, an increase of 25 percent over last year, plus a one-time settlement payment of $2.3M.
  • Increased tenancy at the UA Tech Park by 5 new companies, moving from 39 to 44 companies and organizations in total;
  • Supported 16 companies and offered 17 workshops reaching 244 technologists and entrepreneurs at the Arizona Center for Innovation.

The University created TLA in 2013 by merging three separate functions – technology transfer, tech parks and corporate and business relations – and creating a fourth function, new venture development.

Today, that structure has coalesced, and consists of three integrated teams and functions: technology transfer, which identifies, protects and licenses UA inventions, and supports startup formation; business development resources group, which brings resources from across the ecosystem to bear on positioning those inventions for market success; and Tech Parks Arizona, which provides the interactive ground for outside businesses to grow and mature their products and services while leveraging the connectivity with talent and resources of a top public research university.

“I am pleased with progress TLA has made over the past year,” says David Allen, Ph.D., vice president of Tech Launch Arizona. “This performance is testimony to hundreds of UA inventors, administrators and students, volunteer advisors and service providers in Arizona and beyond, all aligned to make UA a technology commercialization powerhouse.”

Technology Transfer

To maximize the success of UA startups, Joann MacMaster, TLA’s manager of venture development, has been integrated into TLA’s licensing manager team, ensuring that entrepreneurial faculty and researchers have access to resources needed to – if they decide to do so – start new companies that are well positioned for success.

TLA has also added support in essential functional areas. Along with hiring a new technology licensing manager, Lisa Lin, Ph.D., dedicated to serving the College of Medicine, TLA has also brought on UA alum Taylor Hudson (’15) as technology marketing associate to develop programs and strategies to market available UA technologies.

Business Development Resources Group

TLA’s vision has been to grow the innovation and commercialization ecosystem, and to accomplish that requires growing strategic teams, both internally and externally. To that end, TLA almost doubled the size of its network of volunteer domain experts in 2015, growing from 750 to 1,300 individuals that the organization can call on for expert advice in commercializing emerging inventions.

It as also initiated the Tech House SBIR/STTR program to connect Arizona companies with UA faculty in the pursuit of federal grant monies to support innovation and build the regional economy. Ultimately, the goal of this program is to build the region into one of the top winners of SBIR/STTR grants per capita in the nation.

TLA has also created a Commercialization Partners program made up of 14 Entrepreneurs-in-Residence, Executives-in-Residence and Investors-in-Residence, who are closely engaged in helping evaluate new inventions and lead UA startups.

To further hone the organization’s strategy, RD Castillo, senior manager of business relations and now part of the business development resources team, has refocused his position to represent TLA among the other business development partners around campus such as the Office of Research & Discovery, centers and institutes like the Defense & Security Institute, College administration teams and others. With this change, he serves as TLA’s primary liaison to the UA Tech Parks, identifying connection points and opportunities for collaboration.

Finally, Stephanie Zawada, also a 2015 UA graduate, has joined the team as student outreach coordinator to engage UA graduate students who are conducting research in environments where intellectual property is being generated.

Tech Parks Arizona

One of TLA’s visionary efforts in FY 2015 was to further integrate Tech Parks Arizona (TPA) and align it more closely to the Never Settle strategic plan and the UA’s broader research mission. This year, Bruce Wright, associate vice president of TPA, and his team initiated an international business recruitment program to bring in companies that want to access North American markets and the expertise and resources of the UA.

The UA Tech Park and its resident companies have an annual economic impact of $2.33 billion on Pima County’s economy and $3.12 billion on Arizona’s economy. The average wage of a worker at a UA Tech Park tenant is $91,145, which is about twice the Pima County average of $46,363.

Additional achievements at the UA Tech Park include increasing tenancy, initiating the second phase of the Solar Zone, and retiring the 20-year debt on the original portion of the Tech Park.

Catapult Corporation

This year marked the establishment of the Catapult Corporation (“Cat Corp”), a 501(c)(3) company to provide seed funding for the most promising UA startups. A $2.5 million matching challenge by the Thomas R. Brown Foundations served to start the fundraising process, and in partnership with the UA Foundation, TLA has initiated raising the matching $2.5 million.

Challenges and Opportunities

In all, TLA has developed a strategy that is more services-oriented, more complex and more comprehensive than conventional university technology commercialization functions. Along with aligning its internal structures and strategies as outlined above, the organization has also increased efficiencies by more strategically sharing functions among units of the UA; Kimberly Espy, Ph.D., senior vice president of the Office of Research & Discovery, will be leading efforts in building relationships with large corporations. Also, InnovateUA, under the Office of Student Affairs, has taken on the roll of serving student entrepreneurs. Both of these changes are allowing TLA to narrow and strengthen its focus on working with UA faculty and student employees on bringing UA intellectual property to market.

TLA will release its FY 2015 annual report and Roadmap update with new goals and evolving programs for the coming year in August.


- written by
Paul Tumarkin
(520) 626-8770