Startups Prove Ecosystem Power at IdeaFunding 2021

April 26, 2021

From idea to invention to startup, three companies founded on UArizona technologies garnered top honors in Tucson’s annual pitch competition.

Roslyn Norman of Paramium Technologies

Roslyn Norman of Paramium Technologies

TUCSON, Ariz. –  Of the four companies who made it to the finals of IdeaFunding 2021, Tucson’s premier pitch competition put on by Startup Tucson, three are startups that were founded to commercialize inventions developed at the University of Arizona – a visible and measurable indication that the UArizona entrepreneurial ecosystem is successfully connecting research, innovation and impact to launch the university’s most promising inventions.

“The university’s innovation ecosystem is growing, and TLA represents the first step in launching companies based on UofA intellectual property,” said Tech Launch Arizona (TLA) Assistant Vice President Doug Hockstad. “These startups not only bring great solutions to real world problems, but they’re helping to develop our economy right here at home.”

Paramium Technologies 

From left to right: Christian Davila, co-founder; Justin Hyatt, co-founder; Roslyn Norman, principal investigator

From left to right: Christian Davila, co-founder; Justin Hyatt, co-founder; Roslyn Norman, principal investigator

Courtesy of: Paramium Technologies

Launched based on a method for shaping precision metals developed in the James C. Wyant College of Optical Sciences, Paramium Technologies received a finalist award of $5,000 for winning their room in the category of science and technology and was also selected as a runner up for the People’s Choice award. Justin Hyatt, senior research associate and former student of renowned inventor and Regents Professor Roger Angel, led development of the technology which the company will apply initially to the problem of precisely and inexpensively manufacturing custom antennas. Tech Launch Arizona, the UArizona commercialization office, performed both patent and market analyses of the technology, then formed a team including a seasoned Mentor-in-Residence and venture development manager to help the young investigator through the formation of the startup, eventually licensing the patent to the newly formed company. As the team was taking shape TLA fueled the company for launch through its NSF I-Corps customer discovery program, advancing the technology through its Asset Development funding program and helping prepare them for future funding opportunities.

Directly from TLA, Paramium moved onto the university’s incubator, the University of Arizona Center for Innovation (UACI), which is guiding them through a 27-point startup roadmap and providing the team with facilities and services to further advance their technology. Paramium Technology won the UACI Sponsored Launch fueled by R&A CPAs, receiving one year of admission at UACI and accounting services – a package valued at $15,000.

"The genesis of Paramium would not be possible without the support of the University of Arizona,” said Roslyn Norman, engineering manager for Paramium Technologies. “Since inception, the UArizona has been there for us. The technology was invented by Paramium's founders in the Steward Observatory Solar Lab, patented and licensed through Tech Launch Arizona who also funded early development of the proof-of-concept and supported the early formation of our company including our NSF I-Corps experience. From there, our team won a sponsored launch at the University of Arizona Center for Innovation where we plan to build our first prototype and begin scaling for commercialization.”

The company has since gone on to complete the National I-Corps program and secure a Phase 1 SBIR grant totaling $256,000.


From left to right: Martin Fuchs, CEO; Olga Rafikova, co-founder; Ruslan Rafikov, co-founder; Joel James, postdoctoral fellow.

From left to right: Martin Fuchs, CEO; Olga Rafikova, co-founder; Ruslan Rafikov, co-founder; Joel James, postdoctoral fellow.

Courtesy of: Ruslan Rafikov

Another UArizona team, Metfora, received an IdeaFunding finalist prize of $5,000 for the biotech/life science room. The team, consisting of Associate Professors Ruslan Rafikov and Olga Rafikova of the of the College of Medicine-Tucson, is working to commercialize a metabolite biomarker that will enable the creation of a blood test for diagnosing hypertension. They are currently being mentored by TLA’s Venture Development group, have attended both local and national I-Corps programs, and are building their startup team in preparation to license their foundational technology from the university. With Asset Development funding from TLA, Metfora has advanced the technology, and is now working toward an STTR grant.

They also went through the 8-week Advanced Entrepreneur Program at Arizona FORGE to accelerate their skills. Like Paramium, they have been accepted into UACI where they will continue to scale their business.


TheraCea Pharma 

Yet another UArizona startup, TheraCea, received the $1,000 People’s Choice award. The company is working to bring to market a new chemical process for radio-labeling PET contrast agents. Iman Daryaei, Ph.D., CEO of the company, led the research and development effort, co-inventing the technology during his doctoral studies in the UArizona Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.

Left to right: Iman Daryaei and Research & Development Scientist Huong Dang.

Left to right: Iman Daryaei and Research & Development Scientist Huong Dang.

Paul Tumarkin/Tech Launch Arizona

TheraCea Pharma won UACI Sponsored Launch fueled by Bioindustry Organization of Southern Arizona (BIOSA), housed at the new biotech incubator, UACI at Oro Valley. Included with entrance into the program and space at the new location, the startup was awarded a $5,000 cash prize bringing the total package value to $15,000.

An Integrated Ecosystem 

Through TLA, FORGE, UACI and Tech Parks Arizona, the UArizona is mapping defined pathways to develop new technologies and help them grow into successful, impactful companies.

The first step involves TLA working to conceptualize and guide formation of startups around developing technologies, helping inventors refine and protect inventions, understand potential markets and customers, and build strong teams. Following launch, startups can smoothly transition to UACI, where they are guided by a clearly defined roadmap which provides the people, programs and places necessary for success. Tech Parks Arizona, home of UACI, also provides top-notch facilities crucial to advancing early technology companies, launching into the market, and scaling operations.

“It all flows together,” said Tech Parks Arizona Associate Vice President Carol Stewart. “We are the natural next step for these new companies. As a key component of UArizona’s innovation continuum, we bridge the resource gaps to help business launch and scale rapidly. It’s a real testament to the entrepreneurial ecosystem we’re building for Southern Arizona.”

For IdeaFunding 2021, UACI ran the pitch training and down select in collaboration with Startup Tucson on April 15. The overall winner of IdeaFunding, Micro Safari won $10,000 in cash plus 1-year entrance into UACI valued at $10,000.

About Tech Launch Arizona 

Tech Launch Arizona is the office of the University of Arizona that creates social and economic impact through commercializing inventions stemming from UA research. The office builds connections between talented UA faculty, researchers and staff and experienced entrepreneurs and investors, to strategically link an ecosystem that refines ideas that start in university research and innovation and grows them into new products and thriving businesses that benefit society. Since its inception in 2013, the office has licensed hundreds of inventions for commercialization and facilitated the launch of over 100 startups which have generated hundreds of millions of dollars in economic impact for Arizona.  

About The University of Arizona Center for Innovation 

The University of Arizona Center for Innovation (UACI) is a startup incubator network with outposts across the Southern Arizona region and a mission to grow scalable science and technology startup ventures that fuel the Arizona economy. For nearly two decades, the program has directly served over 140 companies and impacted thousands of entrepreneurs. Currently, we are serving 50 startups by providing access to people, programming and places that help entrepreneurs take their companies from idea to market. Startups go through a structured program that takes them through a continuum of education provided by mentors, advisors and community collaborators. UACI also provides access to service providers, industry cluster groups, interns and connections to potential customers and strategic partners. Entrepreneurs utilize various physical spaces that include offices, wet and dry labs, meeting rooms, a prototyping center, collaboration areas and the infrastructure to support these spaces. The UACI is part of Tech Parks Arizona, which brings together university, industry and community, creating “interactive ground” to advance technology innovation. 

Paul Tumarkin, Assistant Director, Marketing & Communications, Tech Launch Arizona
Jessa Turner, Director of Communications, Tech Parks Arizona