Tucson Ariz. – On March 19, Tech Launch Arizona held its fifth annual I-Squared Expo & Awards event at the University of Arizona Center for Creative Photography. The evening honored those whose work impacts the quality of life for people in Tucson, across Arizona and throughout the world through research, invention, collaboration and commercialization.
UA President Robert C. Robbins offered comments and participate in the program honoring the awardees.
“This event is a wonderful way to showcase the incredible talent we have here at the University of Arizona and to encourage other UA inventors to work with TLA so their work can reach its maximum potential,” President Robbins said. “The UA’s future impact depends on turning discoveries into products, processes, and goods that will benefit all of us and help drive Arizona’s economy. I am so impressed with all the award winners this year and grateful for the work they are doing.”
An office of the UA, Tech Launch Arizona works with the University community and brings it together with members of the extended innovation ecosystem to commercialize inventions stemming from research. Ultimately, he goal is to bring new technologies to the world where they can spawn startups, create jobs, and improve our quality of life.
“We created this event in 2013 as part of our original vision for TLA,” says TLA Assistant Vice President Doug Hockstad. “As we build this ecosystem, it’s essential that we highlight the work going on at UA and recognize the contributions of our greatest champions to not only honor that work, but to help inspire others to engage in the mission of bringing the benefits of UA research to the public.”
The event highlighted key individuals and organizations who have made significant contributions to the UA innovation ecosystem:
Inventor of the Year, Physical Sciences: Christopher Walker
Professor Christopher Walker of the Department of Astronomy and Steward Observatory specializes in galactic astronomy, star formation and instrumentation. In 2016, his Stratospheric Terahertz Observatory (STO) team successfully launched the STO from McMurdo in Antarctica. His work has led to the development of a number of inventions – including a new inflatable space-based communications antenna – that are being brought to the world (and beyond) via startup FreeFall Aerospace.
Inventor of the Year, Life Sciences: Frederic Zenhausern
Dr. Zenhausern is Professor and Director of the Center for Applied NanoBioscience and Medicine (ANBM) at The University of Arizona (UA), College of Medicine – Phoenix. He has worked closely with TLA on the protection and commercialization of the Human-Microbial Cross-Talk model, or HuMiX, designed and prototyped at the ANBM. With this organ-on-a-chip technology, researchers can analyze the complex interactions between human cells and the microbial ecosystems of the gut. He has been the lead inventor on 26 technologies and contributed to three others brought to TLA.
Startup of the Year: Codelucida
The Codelucida team (link is external)(link is external) consists of CEO Shiva Planjery, Ph.D, along with his co-founders and doctoral advisors, Bane Vasic, Ph.D., UA professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and David Declercq (link is external)(link is external), Ph.D., professor at the ENSEA in Cergy-Pontoise, France. Commercializing a new error-correction technology for data storage and communications, the team has worked closely with TLA since they launched the company in 2014. Planjery’s dissertation research gave rise to the invention, and the team has since secured over $700,000 in angel investment funding, a $150,000 Phase 1 SBIR grant, and a $750,000 Phase 2 grant, the latter two coming from the National Science Foundation.
Campus Collaborator of the Year: Roger Miesfeld, Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry, College of Science
Under the leadership of Professor Miesfeld, the UA Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry (CBC) has “set the bar” in terms of its engagement in commercialization activities. Because of CBC’s focused effort on finding applications for research, the department has demonstrated more dedication to invention and commercialization than any other at the University; it stands as a model for inspiring such activity, as well as recognizing and rewarding the work of its faculty and researchers.
Ecosystem Impact: Fletcher McCusker
Named a true “Tucson visionary” by Inside Tucson Business Magazine, McCusker (link is external)(link is external) was born in Tucson and is a UA alumnus. In 2013 he collaborated with TLA and Kevin Boesen at the College of Pharmacy to launch TLA’s first startup, SinfoníaRx (link is external)(link is external), which was acquired in 2017 by a large digital healthcare company. Following on that event, he co-founded UA Venture Capital (link is external)(link is external) (UAVC) that same year with SinfoníaRx CFO Michael Deitch. UAVC is a Tucson-based investment fund directed toward helping finance startups emanating from UA faculty research and innovation, as well as student and other UA-connected enterprises.
The event also included a showcase of several of the top startups, inventions and inventors from across the UA:
- ALSihThera: Developing small molecules as drugs to treat Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). Inventor: Daniella Zarnescu, PhD, Department of Molecular & Cellular Biology, College of Science and College of Medicine - Tucson.
- Bed Sled: Resistance-training device with the purpose of strengthening the lower extremities, preventing muscle de-conditioning and overall weakness, and formation of blood clots. Inventor: Laura McRee, PhD, College of Nursing.
- CAST: Computer-assisted surgical trainer. Inventor: Jerzy Rozenblit, PhD, Department of Computer & Electrical Engineering, College of Engineering.
- Codelucida: Next-generation error correction solutions for solid-state data storage. Inventors: Shiva Planjery, PhD, David Declerq, PhD, Bane Vasic, Phd, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, College of Engineering.
- Fibronox: Small molecule drugs for the treatment of fibrosis. Inventor: Louise Hecker, PhD, Department of Medicine, College of Medicine - Tucson.
- FreeFall: UA startup, inflatable spherical reflectors for satellite communications and remote sensing. Inventor: Christopher Walker, Department of Astronomy and Steward Observatory.
- Guía: UA startup, mining sensor network. Inventor: Moe Momayez, PhD, Department of Mining & Geological Engineering, College of Engineering.
- HexaFeast: Scalable system for cultivating edible insects. Inventor: Goggy Davidowitz, PhD, College of Agriculture & Life Sciences.
- Quantum-analogue Computing with Phi-bits: Inventor: Pierre Deymier, PhD, Department of Materials Science & Engineering, College of Engineering.
- Regulonix: UA startup, non-opioid drugs for chronic pain. Inventors: Rajesh Khanna, PhD, Anesthesiology, Neuroscience and Pharmacology; May Khanna, PhD, Department of Pharmacology; and Vijay Gokhale, PhD, UA BIO5 Institute.
“As we keep focusing on building the UA innovation ecosystem, we need to glance back and honor and learn from our greatest contributors,” says David Allen, vice president of TLA. “That’s how we’ll keep inspiring people to engage in this mission in the future.”