For our 10th anniversary, we interviewed Fletcher McCusker, CEO of UAVenture Capital. Fletcher was one of the first entrepreneurs we worked with as he helped launch SinfoníaRx, which was later acquired by TabulaRasa Healthcare. After that success he launched UAVenture Capital with his partner Michael Deitch with the goal of advancing early-stage UArizona startups. As a member of the TLA advisory board Fletcher has provided invaluable input as we've evolved our organization and the ecosystem.
"We've seen other venture capital come to Tucson. What you're beginning to see is an ecosystem of funders now that can come in after us. It's attracted inbound faculty who are coming to the university with a patent because they've heard how aggressive we are and how tenacious we are in the monetization of an idea... Because (of) all the facets it takes to do that – product, money, inventors, investors, space – you know, if you want to start up a company, there's probably no place more affordable in the country right now than Tucson, Arizona." –Fletcher McCusker
We were involved very early in 2013 when David Allen was looking for what he called a "business driver" to partner with faculty to put together a company or a product or a system that could spin out of the University of Arizona. And my partner and I, Michael Deitch, had just retired from our public company experience where we had spent 15 years building, growing, and exiting a public company.
I think it was really intuitive, looking back on it now, it's really brilliant, to pair people who had been there/done that – you know run a company, started a company, exited a company, raised money, all the kind of things that go along with company-building – with faculty who had invented a product.
We ended up signing contracts with CVS, Walgreens, and infamously, 3 years later, with WalMart. We always wanted to build, operate, and exit. We were approached by a public company, a pharmacy company. We weaponized our press, so they had seen the press release about Walmart, and called us and said they would like to meet with us. They’re New York-based, and I said yeah, next time we're in New York we'd love to come talk to you. And they (said), “Could you come right away? Like tomorrow?” Being an opportunist, I never turn that kind of opportunity down. I go, “Yeah, sure, what's the purpose of the meeting?” (They) said, “We would like to buy your company.” And I said, "Well it's too early. You're wasting probably our time and yours." And they said, “We'll give you $130 million.” I said, “I'll see you tomorrow.”
For $130 million (we) made 15 faculty millionaires and created a 30-times return on our investment for our investors.
Bobby was so excited to hear this story, and he nonchalantly says to me, “I'd like to do it again. Are you willing to do it again?” And I said, “Yeah.” (And) he said, “I don't think you understand. I want to do it again and again and again and again and again.” And I said, “Bobby, we're all in.”
As word got around about product availability (and) product exits, we've seen other venture capital come to Tucson. But you're beginning to see an ecosystem of funders now that can come in after us. It has attracted inbound faculty who are coming to the university with a patent because they've heard how aggressive we are, and how tenacious we are in the monetization of your idea. This was Bobby's intuition: that we could create a Stanford-like ecosystem by combining inventors with investors. And we're beginning to see that payoff. And it has spread beyond campus.
Tucson is very Austin-esque now, and people will describe that Tucson looks like Austin did 10 years ago. Tech investors. The university-lead product. Startup companies. Young people sticking to their community. Our best and brightest historically have left Tucson. You know, they graduate from Eller or whatever and they go to Seattle or Portland or San Diego or Austin or someplace else. They're staying in Tucson now. That Tucson could put itself on the map as a startup community... Because (of) all the facets it takes to do that – product, money, inventors, investors, space – you know, if you want to start up a company, there's probably no place more affordable in the country right now than Tucson, Arizona.