TUCSON, Ariz. – Tech Launch Arizona (TLA) has awarded funding to five-student teams to develop inventions with the goal of bringing them to the public as impactful products to benefit society. Through its first Student Innovation Challenge, TLA, the office that commercializes the university’s inventions for social and economic impact, created the competition to engage students in the innovation and commercialization process.
“It is one of our goals to weave entrepreneurship into many aspects of the student experience,” said Doug Hockstad, assistant vice president of TLA. “Through philanthropic support, we were able to launch this new program, and provide experience in pitching ideas, building products, and chasing dreams.”
Open to both undergraduate and graduate students, the Student Innovation Challenge is modeled after TLA’s Asset Development program, which provides funds to UArizona employees, such as faculty, researchers and staff, to develop early-stage inventions and ready them for commercialization. AD projects often involve activities like creating a prototype, confirming functionality, and exploring scalability.
Through the Student Innovation Challenge, student inventors go through a similar process, including filling out invention disclosures, working with TLA on intellectual property protection, and all the details that go into asset development and commercialization planning. “We considered the program we’ve got in place for our employees, and we thought it would be great to extend it to students,” said Rakhi Gibbons, director of licensing and intellectual property. “We are providing them opportunities to not only apply their innovative thinking to solve real-world problems, but provide funding to see those visions become reality.”
In total, this first Challenge drew 18 proposals. After multiple reviews and discussions, the panel of judges chose five projects to fund: a new distributed mushroom cultivation system; a mobile application for monitoring pavement conditions; an online small claims arbitration system; a weight-loss pet food; and a new biodegradable toilet paper. Each awardee has been paired with a TLA licensing manager who specializes in their technology field to assist with intellectual property protection and strategic planning.
TLA will launch its next Student Innovation Challenge in September 2020.
Fresher Mushrooms, Justin Chung, Biosystems Engineering
Justin Chung, the inventor behind the hub-and-spoke mushroom cultivation project, is a graduate student in the Biosystems Engineering program co-housed in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the College of Engineering. He was elated upon learning that his project received funding.
“I've always thought about solutions to real world problems that are not traditionally taught inside the classroom,” he said. “This TLA challenge was the perfect opportunity to work on a creative project based around my passion: helping both humans and earth become healthier.”
With his innovation, Chung hopes to give Tucsonans “unprecedented access to powerfully fresh mushrooms with unique flavors and medicinal benefits, and make sure every market and restaurant that wants to grow fresh mushrooms on-site will have the ability to do so.”
While this project has a specific focus in mushroom cultivation, Chung’s grand vision is to use a technology-based approach to address pressing global issues like urban resiliency, population growth, and sustainable food production.
Online Small Claims Arbitration, Benjamin Daly, James E. Rogers College of Law
Benjamin Daly, a student in the James E. Rogers College of Law, talked about how the motivation for his idea came from a problem he experienced in his personal life.
“My landlord was violating the terms of our lease agreement, and when I moved out, he threatened to charge me a lease termination fee,” he said. While he considered a lawsuit, Daly recognized that it did not make economic sense to file a claim in court. “I realized that for individuals with small claims under $2,500, there is no venue to have their issue resolved. So, I was motivated to develop a way for people to resolve small claims at a low cost and in a simple manner.”
He went on to talk about the opportunity that this funding was opening for him and his future: “I felt great knowing that my concept piqued the judges' interest, and it encouraged me to dive into making my vision a reality.”
Anti-obesity Dog Food, Analisa del Grosso, Honors College
Del Grosso will be working on her honors thesis during the 2020-2021 academic year.
“After determining how I planned on testing pet obesity and owners’ guilt when placing their dog on a diet, my thesis advisor, Dr. Renquist, informed me of the Student Innovation Challege and suggested that I should apply to get funding for my project.”
Benjamin Renquist is an associate professor of animal and comparative biomedical sciences in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the BIO5 Institute(link is external); he knows the value of commercialization to create impact, having launched multiple companies based on his inventions stemming from his research.
The solution Del Grosso proposed for her Challenge project – development of a new physical form of pet food to prevent pet obesity – grew directly out of her thesis work, but is taking it to the next level to improve the lives of pets and their people.
“I hope that in the future,” she said, “solutions like I’m proposing will be a common regimen used by veterinarians to induce weight loss in both dogs and cats.”
Non-clogging Toilet Paper, Kunal Shamdasani, Eller College of Management
This Eller undergraduate business student got his commercialization inspiration when traveling in India.
“I first noticed the problem when in my home country an airplane had to land as all toilets were clogged owing to the toilet paper,” he remembers. His idea is to innovate toilet paper such that it “avoids clogging of toilets and simultaneously is safe to use.”
Shamdasani says that he had had the idea for a while, but when he saw a poster for the Challenge, he recognized that he had an opportunity and a pathway to pursue his innovation, especially with help and support from the expert TLA staff.
“The people I have interacted with have been kind in donating their time and it feels great to have such accomplished professionals backing me in a project I deem important,” he said. “Their guidance is not only appreciated but needed to make sure the idea reaches its potential.”
Real-Time Road Health App, Jong-Hyun Jeong, Civil and Architectural Engineering and Mechanics, College of Engineering
A graduate student in civil engineering, Jong-Hyun Jeong recognized that an intersection between a unique problem and an existing technology presented a new opportunity.
Roads that need maintenance are bumpy. But how do you map the problem points that need the most attention? Maybe there was a way use the devices already in almost every driver’s vehicle as one big detection network.
“Recent smartphones are equipped a variety of sensors and high-performance CPU/GPU that enable their use as road health monitoring sensors,” Jeong said. “But there is no method available to directly use a general driver's smartphone due to vehicle calibration requirements.”
Jeong proposes to use smartphones and their integrated accelerometers to calculate the International Roughness Index (IRI), providing real-time road health conditions.