University of Arizona gets spotlight at TENWEST IdeaFunding

Nov. 15, 2023

Tech Launch Arizona awards the first Liftoff Prize honor ever to optical sciences startup Fringe Metrology.

Joel Berkson and Doug Hockstad

Left to right: Joel Berkson and Doug Hockstad.

Aileen Dingus/Tech Launch Arizona

TUCSON, AZ  – IdeaFunding – Tucson’s premier startup and pitch event that took place on November 9 – was a grand success, drawing entrepreneurs and startups from across the ecosystem. At the event, a startup born of a technology invented in the University of Arizona Wyant College of Optical Sciences won a $1000 award, and Tech Launch Arizona Associate Vice President Doug Hockstad also received a special honor.

The event marked the 26th year of the event where tens of thousands of dollars in funding were awarded to startups who took the stage to tell their stories and earn the favor of judges especially selected to evaluate them in their unique areas of business.

Fringe Metrology, winner of the TLA Liftoff Award

With the goal of elevating those startups with University of Arizona connections, Tech Launch Arizona partnered with Startup Tucson to offer the Liftoff Prize, awarded to the best University of Arizona affiliated startup. The award was strategized to support companies founded by at least one UArizona student, faculty, staff member or alumnus, or founded to commercialize an innovation developed by a student, faculty, or staff member. In the final evaluation, Fringe Metrology and its offering of a system for high-precision surface measurement, with Joel Berkson as its chief executive officer, took the prize. Berkson invented the system in collaboration with Steward Observatory senior research associate Justin Hyatt at the Wyant College of Optical Sciences. Startup Tucson provided the funding for the award.

“I’m so excited and have a lot of people to thank. It’s not like I got my PhD and knew how to pitch,” Berkson said. “I’ve been trying to learn how to pitch companies since my senior year in the McGuire Program,” which he went through five years ago.  He also thanked his co-founders, as well as the team at Tech Launch Arizona for their assistance and expertise in helping him launch Fringe as a new venture. “TLA helped me think outside the box, and how to market this thing and how to communicate it.” he said.

“Joel doesn’t only excel in his field,” Hockstad said. “He’s really worked with our New Ventures team to learn how to build and lead a business. We’re so happy for him and look forward to seeing him take Fringe to the next level.”

Berkson graduates in December of this year, at which point he plans to dedicate himself fully to the growth and success of Fringe.

Doug Hockstad, winner of the Larry Hecker & Sherry Hoskinson Community Builder Award

Doug Hockstad and Larry Hecker

Left to right: Doug Hockstad and Larry Hecker.

Aileen Dingus/Tech Launch Arizona

At the same event, Hockstad was honored as the recipient of the Larry Hecker & Sherry Hoskinson Lasting Community Builder Award, given in recognition of his contributions to building and strengthening the local startup ecosystem.

Doug has spent more than 30 years in high-tech markets and more than 20 in university tech transfer. In 2012, David Allen recruited Doug to come to the University of Arizona and help launch a rejuvenated commercialization unit, Tech Launch Arizona or "TLA". Prior to their tenure, the UArizona had not yet developed a grand plan for developing a cohesive, comprehensive technology transfer operation. Together, they re-envisioned and re-launched the office over the next year. After more than 5 years leading the licensing and IP teams, Hockstad moved into the division’s leadership position upon Allen’s retirement. 

Today he leads a team of 30 technology transfer professionals, and works with them to set the strategies for growing and optimizing tech transfer at UArizona as well as increating ecosystem engagement. During Hockstad’s tenure, TLA has continued to grow the impact of commercialization activity at the University of Arizona; the number of invention disclosures and patents filed each year has doubled, and patents issued annually have increased by over 60 percent. In its most recent rankings, the National Academy of Inventors ranked the University of Arizona #22 among the top 100 U.S. universities and #29 among the top 100 worldwide universities granted utility patents in 2022. His time at TLA has seen the launch of over 135 startups, and according to a 2022 study, the activities of the office supported thousands of jobs and generated an economic output of $1.6 billion between FY2027 and FY2021. The same study projected that output to grow to $4.7 billion in the next 10 years.  

“It’s amazing to receive this honor,” he said. “I have to thank my incredible team – they always have my back – the researchers and inventors of the university, and this vibrant ecosystem with which to work. We all have so much work to do and I can’t wait to come in every day to advance our mission of bringing the great innovations of our university to the public for a better world. We engage with the ecosystem because we couldn’t do it without their involvement.”

Paul Tumarkin, Assistant Director, Marketing & Communications