Tech Launch Arizona presented five awards for innovation leadership and impact at its 8th Annual I-Squared Expo & Awards
TUCSON, Ariz. – On September 28, 2021, Tech Launch Arizona, the office of the University of Arizona that commercializes inventions stemming from research, hosted its eighth annual I-Squared Awards and Expo event. Along with honoring the top inventors and entrepreneurs dedicated to commercializing UArizona inventions, the evening included an expo of innovations and startups stemming from UArizona hosted by entrepreneurial, innovative teams.
UArizona Sr. Vice President of Research and Innovation Elizabeth “Betsy” Cantwell, and Assistant Vice President of Tech Launch Arizona Douglas Hockstad offered their comments and presented the awards.
“Great research leads to great, impactful innovation and that innovation leads to commercializable inventions that create jobs, generate opportunity and improve lives,” said Cantwell. “These awards serve two purposes: they showcase these great stories to honor the recipients’ accomplishments, but they also serve as examples to inspire other inventors and community members to lean in and get involved in maximizing the impact of UArizona innovation.”
“This work of bringing university inventions to the world needs the support of an ecosystem to succeed,” said Hockstad. “And while we start with great inventions, it takes help from experts and resources in the community – investors, entrepreneurs, industry experts, alumni connectors – everyone can have a hand in moving technologies out into the world.”
He noted that "our doors are always open," and anyone who wishes to learn more and take part in the work of creating impact from UArizona innovation is invited to contact TLA.
Inventor of the Year: Sadhana Ravishankar
The Inventor of the Year honors a UArizona innovator who has demonstrated a significant commitment to commercialization throughout their career, with a focus on activity in the past year. Ravishankar is a professor of Animal and Comparative Biomedical Sciences in the College of Agriculture & Life Sciences and the BIO5 Institute. She has been working with TLA on developing natural antimicrobial products for the marketplace, and last year launched a new company – PhytoCentric Solutions – to commercialize inventions developed in her lab.
In her acceptance comments, Ravishankar thanked many who have contributed to her success, including PhytoCentric Chief Executive officer Bibiana Law, Chief Strategy Officer Daphne Prusse, her laboratory staff, and all of her graduate and undergraduate students.
“For a woman entrepreneur to be recognized like this it makes me feel so empowered, and I hope it serves as a motivation to others,” she said. Her message to all women researchers and potential inventors was, “Please do not hesitate to pursue your passion. The sky is the limit. Definitely go for it!”
Startup of the Year: Botanisol Analytics
This award is given to the startup that has, in the past year, had the most impact or significant activity. Botanisol Analytics was launched to commercialize a laser screener for use in rapidly detecting pathogens including COVID-19. Professor Tom Milster at the James C. Wyant College of Optical Sciences originally developed the innovation that the startup is taking forward. The company has integrated the technology into a portable device that can be operated anywhere by non-medical personnel and provides results about chemical and biological threats in real-time. It can be used by law enforcement, military, and first responder communities to protect key personnel and critical infrastructure in the event of a chemical or biological incident, and has other applications in many industries.
In the past year, the company has received recognition from the Intelligence and National Security Association and the Office of the DIrector of National Intelligence. They have also received funding from the Air Force Research Laboratory, Biosurveillance Unit.
“Having finished my Ph.D. at the University of Arizona and now getting to work with Dave Talenfeld, a fellow University of Arizona graduate at Botanisol, it’s just a thrill to come full circle,” said Director of Business Development Zachary Brooks, who received Ph.D. in Second Language Acquisition and Teaching through the university’s Graduate Interdisciplinary Programs.
“We’re so thrilled and honored to receive this award, our U of A ties run deep,” said Talenfeld, the company’s chief executive officer who received his MBA from the Eller College of Management in 2010. He noted that he has two brothers who are also alumni and hold seven UArizona degrees between them.
Student Innovator of the Year: Sahand Sabet
The Student Innovator of the Year award is reserved for the student who over the last year has shown excellence in commercialization and intellectual property with a focus on entrepreneurship. Sahand Sabet, a Ph.D. candidate in the College of Engineering. He and his team originally came to TLA via the office's Student Innovation Challenge with their idea for a new generation of robots that can both roll and fly, and operate for extended periods of time. The team won funding to move their invention forward, and along with Collin Taylor ’21 BSBA (Finance/Entrepreneurship), launched startup Revolute Robotics to bring the concept to the marketplace. Through participating in TLA’s NSF I-Corps customer discovery program, they learned about many more potential applications for the technology and are expanding the focus of their company. The team was honored in April, winning the McGuire New Venture Competition for aspiring entrepreneurs put on by the Eller College of Management.
“Eight months ago I had no idea about the process, how to package things, how to start selling things, and that’s where Tech Launch really helped us,” he said, noting how much help the team had from experienced TLA mentors. “I’m really honored to receive this award, and I want to thank TLA for all their efforts in giving students a chance to bring an idea to a product.”
Campus Collaboration: Mark Van Dyke
The Campus Collaboration award honors a person or entity within the UArizona whose contributions to commercialization have demonstrated great impact, with emphasis on the last year. While it has been a relatively short time since his arrival at the UArizona in 2020, Mark Van Dyke, associate dean for research at the UArizona College of Engineering has proactively partnered with TLA to expand innovation and entrepreneurship among faculty, researchers, and staff not only at his home college but across campus. He is an inventor and entrepreneur himself; he is listed as an inventor or co-inventor on 34 issued U.S. patents in the biomedical space and has co-founded three startups.
“(As engineers) we like to work on things that actually improve the quality of life and there’s a limit to what we can do in our laboratories on campus,” he said, noting that he prioritized working with Hockstad for the value TLA brings to creating pathways to move university innovations out into the world. “So to get connected to Tech Launch Arizona and the overall entrepreneurial ecosystem, to build those ties and those strengths and those relationships – that’s really important for us as problem solvers because, at the end of the day, that’s how we have impact.”
Ecosystem Impact: Eric Smith, University of Arizona Center for Innovation
This award is reserved for a person or entity outside the UArizona whose contributions have generated maximum success for UArizona inventions and startups over the last year and over time. TLA awarded the honor this year to Eric Smith and the organization for which he is the executive director, the University of Arizona Center for Innovation (UACI), which is the incubator network for Tech Parks Arizona. The incubator services scalable science and technology companies from both within the university as well as other sectors of the community, and even from outside the United States.
Under his leadership, UACI has expanded to currently serve 58 companies, 35 of which have UArizona ties and 12 of which are UArizona startups commercializing university inventions. The organization is also going through an expansion, having recently opened an incubator in Oro Valley to support bioscience startups, and is also working on implementing programs in Sahuarita, Maricopa, and Yuma.
Smith, who holds a Bachelor of Science, Business Administration and Business Management degree (’12) and an MBA (’18) from the Eller College of Management, got his start in technology commercialization working for TLA, where he led an initiative to build a commercialization network of over 1,600 experts to help provide advice to advance UArizona inventions into the marketplace.
“One of the most important feeders we have to our incubator is the technology that is born inside of the research labs at the University of Arizona,” Smith said. “Partners like Tech Launch Arizona are really able to take that innovation, solidify the intellectual property, prepare a startup company to launch, and come to an incubator like ours. So when TLA does good work, we already have a head start on helping the resulting startup commercialize their invention and make it to the marketplace.”
He noted that the success of UACI has resulted from the work of an entire team, including Tech Parks Arizona Associate Vice President Carol Stewart, UACI Director Anita Bell, and the entire incubator team.
TLA supports entrepreneurship through a variety of initiatives, including training startup teams in customer discovery, providing funding to advance early-stage inventions toward market readiness, and hosting challenges to help students and faculty move innovative ideas from concept to societal impact. In FY2021, TLA took in 274 invention disclosures, had 100 U.S. patents issued, executed 124 licenses and options for UArizona technologies, and launched 17 startups.