$1M Annual Program Helps Inventors Prep Technologies for Impact

Monday, March 2, 2020
UArizona assistant research scientist and Scintillation Nanotechnologies co-inventor Colleen Janczak. (Photo: Paul Tumarkin/Tech Launch Arizona)

UArizona assistant research scientist and Scintillation Nanotechnologies co-inventor Colleen Janczak. (Photo: Paul Tumarkin/Tech Launch Arizona)

“What innovations are stemming from inventions you create through your work? Do you want to see them generate positive impact in the world?”

According to Doug Hockstad, assistant vice president of Tech Launch Arizona, the office of the University of Arizona that commercializes inventions stemming from research, this is the conversation that TLA wants to engage in with every employee and investigator.

“Not only do we have the professional staff to help identify and patent these inventions, we have funding to help researchers demonstrate and prepare technologies for the transition from bench to the world.”

Last year TLA awarded $776,732 for Asset Development (AD) projects. All told, TLA granted 16 new awards in FY2019, bringing the total number of projects funded since 2015 to 91.

The AD fund provides $1 million each year for such awards, which are granted based on a collaborative application process that brings together UArizona inventors and the TLA staff with technology, industry and intellectual property experts. Together they evaluate applications for their impact potential and their “technology readiness level,” and then develop a project plan and budget to ready it for license to a company that can take it forward.

The size and scope of projects vary greatly, but awards generally range from $20,000 to $50,000 per project.

Gus Loaiza, accountant with TLA, manages the AD program. One of the key elements, he says, is how the process brings together UArizona inventors and community experts to identify and evaluate technologies with the greatest impact potential.

“It’s fascinating to be a part of this kind of collaboration, working with professors and community partners, getting everyone's perspective on what's best for this tech,” he says. “When the invention is licensed and you see an available product at the end of the day, you know it’s come full circle, that we funded a project that made it to market and is living and breathing on its own.”

Over the years, these projects have hailed from across fields and campus entities, including the College of Engineering, the James C. Wyant College of Optical Sciences, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the College of Medicine - Tucson, and other academic and non-academic colleges and units.

Colleen Janczak and Craig Aspinwall of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry and BIO5 received two awards to develop a nanomaterial technology to provide a deeper understanding of complex biological processes, opening possibilities for more precise diagnosis and treatment of disease. When the invention was shown to be viable through AD projects, the team formed a startup, Scintillation Nanotechnologies, and licensed the invention from the university.

"The Asset Development award from TLA allowed us to focus our efforts and move from an idea to a product that can be produced at a scale practical for commercialization," Janczak said.

In another project, UA Libraries researchers Jason Dewland and Yvonne Mery developed a concept for a new breed of web-based e-learning platform. AD funding provided the resources to build the software, which the university licensed to the startup, Sidecar Learning, Inc.

“The funds we received from AD allowed us to develop our initial prototype,” said Mery. “From there we were able to build out the beta version of the platform and go to market with it. We now have about ten paying customers.”

Through its process, the office assesses each invention, examining both the intellectual property and market landscapes to establish its commercial potential. Most of the time, these technologies are early-stage and need further development to make them attractive for market adoption.

“The funding is awarded to a variety of projects, but mainly it’s based on the potential to get the technology out into the world via a license, either to a startup or an existing company,” said Hockstad. “Overall, it’s about maximizing the opportunity for each invention to impact lives.”

As described in its last Annual Report, TLA launched eleven startups and licensed 96 technologies in FY2019, moving ideas that started as research out into the world where they can improve lives, create jobs and make a better world.

Faculty and graduate students interested in learning more about Asset Development funding opportunities should contact TLA online or call 520-621-5000.

Paul Tumarkin
Assistant Director, Marketing & Communications