Tech transfer pioneer Laura Silva to blaze new trails in retirement

Feb. 9, 2024
Laura coaches the Scintillation Nanotechnologies startup team during NSF I-Corps. Left to right: Craig Aspinwall, Colleen Janczak, Ayaz Malik, and Laura Silva.

Laura coaches the Scintillation Nanotechnologies startup team during NSF I-Corps. Left to right: Craig Aspinwall, Colleen Janczak, Ayaz Malik, and Laura Silva.

Paul Tumarkin/Tech Launch Arizona

Retirement marks not only the end of an era but the start of a new one, and Tech Launch Arizona’s College of Science Senior Licensing Manager Laura Silva is getting ready to embrace this new journey.

After getting her degree in Chemical Engineering at Washington State University, Laura landed her first professional job at Chevron’s research campus in Richmond, California.  After 5 years there in chemical engineering process design for petroleum refining and chemical production facilities, she joined Battelle’s Pacific Northwest Laboratory to develop chemical process technology. Her technology development resulted in inventions and patents relating to new processes for pollution prevention and improved efficiencies. In addition to her own projects, Laura took interest in improving Battelle’s IP protection and licensing. Her boss offered her the opportunity to create a tech transfer office in exchange for Laura halting her other projects saying, “and if you turn down this offer, I’ll assign you to work on Hanford nuclear waste!” That last part was, of course, a joke. Laura took the offer and played a key role in advancing new technologies through patents and deals. 

Laura was part of a team developing a new microchannel reactor/catalyst technology to achieve significant advantages in hydrocarbon conversion such as reforming, synthesis gas conversion, oxidations, and other process technology. The team strategized a startup, Velocys, Inc. (“fast systems”), launching in 2001 with some seed funding, a license to IP from Battelle, and industrial alliances with major oil companies. As a Velocys founder, Laura contributed in many roles to establish and grow the company, including business planning, IP protection, business development, deal negotiation and due diligence, project management, invention, and strategic direction. The company demonstrated its technology at a full scale in a landfill gas-to-renewable diesel facility via a partnership that included Waste Management and NRG Energy.  

After devoting two decades to Velocys, she decided to move back to early-stage technology development via  university tech transfer, which she describes as “the fun stuff where it’s early stage and you have an idea and no money and you’ve gotta figure it out.” She interviewed at Tech Launch Arizona (TLA), the university’s technology commercialization arm, and was offered the job. 

TLA brought Laura back to her roots; she said she loves this role so much because, in her words, “I think that intellectual property is so amazing (…) the idea that ideas have power and monetary value.” 

A colleague who shall remain anonymous once overheard Laura saying, “This is the best job ever. We get to see the future.” As a Senior Licensing Manager, Laura has been amazed with her seat at the table and having a hand in moving so many developments towards impacting the future for the better. The technologies she works with have ranged from therapeutics and diagnostics to energy storage and materials that enable renewable energy and fuels. 

“I’m really glad I came to the University of Arizona toward the end of my career,” Laura said when asked about her time at TLA, “that I could apply what I previously learned from my experiences over the lifecycle of technology commercialization and help inventors at the earliest stages start on the right foot. I think I was able to help some people.” 

TLA is sad to see her go but thankful for her contributions. Director of Licensing and Intellectual Property Rakhi Gibbons said, “Laura’s dedication to seeing new technologies benefit the world and her creative approach to making it happen have made working with her easy and fun. I’ll miss having her sense of humor and clever quips in our team meetings, but I wish her the very best in this next exciting stage of life.”

In retirement, Laura wants to spend more time doing her hobbies like triathlons, playing the pipe organ, piano, violin, and hanging out with her family and friends.

TLA wishes you the best, Laura! 

Paul Tumarkin, Assistant Director, Marketing & Communications