Program launches to engage faculty leaders and increase impact from innovative research

May 24, 2024

Inaugural cohort of Faculty Innovation Ambassadors to serve as mentors and information resources for colleagues.

Faculty Innovation Ambassador orientation day at Tech Launch Arizona.

To kick off their cohort, Faculty Innovation Ambassadors go through a half-day orientation.

Paul Tumarkin/Tech Launch Arizona

What should campus researchers and innovators do if they think their work has given rise to a useful innovation? How does the university patent and license inventions? How do you recognize when something might be a useful invention in the first place? What’s involved in launching a startup?

“Those are all great questions,” says Doug Hockstad, Assoicate Vice President of Tech Launch Arizona. “While our team has always been ready with the answers, now we have an extended team of faculty ambassadors right there to serve their college communities.” 

The team at Tech Launch Arizona – the office of the University of Arizona that works with campus inventors to bring university innovations to the world – has been engaging in the work of commercializing university discoveries for over 10 years. That work has had a significant and measurable impact, including generating over 2,700 inventions, the granting of more than 600 patents, the creation of more than 135 startups, the support of over 2,500 jobs, and the generation of a $1.6 billion impact on the Arizona economy. 

“Even with our success and great, real-world stories of impact, there are still employees across the university who either don’t know about us or aren’t engaging when it would be so beneficial,” said Hockstad. “People are very focused on the work at hand, but we want help them take that work further and impact the public good. Our goal is to engage innovators and bring their expertise to bear on making a better world for all.”

To extend its reach into the campus community, TLA launched a new outreach strategy. The Faculty Innovation Ambassadors Program is designed to improve access to information and assistance related to innovation, inventorship, and entrepreneurship. The program places a volunteer Faculty Innovation Ambassador or “FIA” who has expertise and experience in commercialization activities such as invention disclosure, intellectual property development, licensing, and startups in key colleges across campus. While TLA has Licensing Managers embedded in colleges across the university, FIAs serve as an additional initial point of contact to answer their colleagues' questions and point them to helpful resources.

Hockstad and the TLA have not developed this program in a vacuum. For the past year, the team has been working with universities around the nation as they all collaborate to strategize, learn from one another, and share best practices. The working group, which meets quarterly, includes team members from the technology commercialization offices at Vanderbilt University, Duke University, the University of Michigan, and Baylor University. 

For this inaugural group, TLA has engaged: Hong Hua, Professor of Optical Sciences, James C. Wyant College of Optical Sciences; Julie Ledford, Associate Professor Cellular & Molecular Medicine, College of Medicine – Tucson; Jeff Pyun, Professor of Chemistry & Biochemistry, College of Science; Sadhana Ravishankar, Professor, College of Agriculture, Life & Environmental Sciences; Gregory Thatcher, Professor of Pharmacology & Toxicology, College of Pharmacy; Joseph Valacich, Professor of Management Information Systems, Eller College of Management; Hao Xin, Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, College of Engineering; and Frederic Zenhausern, Professor of Clinical Translational Sciences, Translational Neurosciences, Biomedical Engineering, and Radiation Oncology, College of Medicine-Phoenix/College of Engineering.

Given his industry experience before going into academic research and prolific activity as an inventor, Dr. Zenhausern will be a great resource for the College of Medicine-Phoenix faculty and staff. 

“I think as a Faculty Innovation Ambassador I would like to share my experience and my also curiosity and interest in intellectual property,” said Zenhausern, “and share that (not only) with my colleagues and peers, but especially with the junior faculty because I benefited (from that) when I was a young scientist.”

Pyun of the College of Science expressed similar excitement at being able to share his experience to help other early-career innovators along. 

“I’m honored and excited to serve the University and TLA as an inaugural Faculty Innovation Ambassador,” he said. “TLA and UArizona have provided tremendous support to our research program and our efforts to commercialize new technologies. It is imperative that more UArizona faculty – particularly, creative junior faculty – capitalize on these resources to develop and commercialize new IP here at UArizona. I look forward to helping my colleagues understand how rewarding and impactful these partnerships can be.”

While Hockstad emphasizes that anyone with questions about innovation and commercialization can reach out directly to TLA staff, he invites people in these colleges to get to know their FIAs and keep the conversations open and flowing. 

“Anyone in the colleges where we have FIAs can contact that person and just have a conversation about your greater vision for your work and its impact,” he said. “Each speaks from incredible experience, and all are amazing, entrepreneurial inventors who understand what it takes to get things done.”

TLA is planning a series of events for this fall to help build connections between Ambassadors and their colleagues. For the latest information about these opportunities, subscribe to the TLA monthly newsletter and follow TLA on LinkedInFacebookTwitter, and Instagram

Paul Tumarkin, Assistant Director, Marketing & Communications