Tech Launch Arizona, FORGE, and the University of Arizona Center for Innovation (UACI) have partnered to launch the University of Arizona Venture Mentoring Service (UAZ VMS). Through the program, entrepreneurs connected with the University of Arizona launching a new venture can get free mentorship from experienced, trained, vetted mentors to help them develop successful startup strategies. Mentors engaged in the program are selected based on their ability to provide advice to startups on the multiple issues and challenges that startups face, such as business planning, marketing, intellectual property strategy, raising funds, and human resources.
“The higher you raise the bar for your mentors, the higher the level of success will be for your program results,” says MIT VMS mentor trainer Kent Summers, a successful serial entrepreneur who visited Tucson to lead the introductory workshop for the first cohort of UAZ VMS mentors on August 18, 2022. “We make sure we only have highly qualified, committed people in the program. That’s how we build a successful community of mentors we can all be proud of.”
Aileen Dingus, Commercialization Network and Events manager for TLA, administers the program for the three partner units.
“I'm excited to be working across the UArizona entrepreneurial ecosystem with both FORGE and UACI,” said Dingus. “With all three organizations involved, we are able to offer lifespan expert mentoring to university-related startups, giving them a solid base from which to launch."
Using a team mentoring approach, the UAZ VMS pairs startups with volunteer mentors – all of whom go through a rigorous vetting process – to provide practical, actionable advice and coaching on key issues impacting startup success. While team sizes may vary based on each startup’s need, the program most commonly provides startup teams with the support of a diverse team of 3 to 5 mentors who provide structured, disciplined service throughout the course of the engagement. Additional experts are brought to bear based on the needs of the startup at any given moment in time. The initial cohort of mentors includes a diverse group of individuals who have successfully launched and exited all types of companies, from pharmaceuticals to devices to software.
Volunteer mentors are chosen for their experience and enthusiasm for helping new entrepreneurs and startups succeed, and come from all areas of business activity, including law, human resources, marketing, accounting, finance, business leadership, and more. Working together, mentors help guide entrepreneurs along the road to launching a successful startup.
UAZ VMS is based on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) Venturing Mentoring Service (MIT VMS) began in 2000 and has since supported thousands of startup companies. As part of engaging in the program, TLA, FORGE, and UACI sent representatives to Boston for training in how to implement the program. While there they learned directly from the MIT VMS program management, who have been implementing and honing the program for over 2 decades.
The program is based on several key principles:
- Mentoring takes a team – startups benefit from multiple points-of-view
- Mentors should provide practical, actionable advice
- Participants follow a strict code of ethics
- Participants will follow a proven approach and adhere to formal operating processes
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 125 startups, and its work has generated over $1.6 billion in economic output 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. For nearly two decades, the program has directly served over 200 companies and impacted thousands of entrepreneurs. This is done 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. Tech Parks Arizona directs the UA Tech Park, the UA Tech Park at The Bridges and the University of Arizona Center for Innovation.
About Arizona FORGE
FORGE (Finding Opportunities and Resources to Grow Entrepreneurs) is a unique entrepreneurial community combining experiential student and community venture education alongside startup acceleration through three major initiatives. FORGE Student Venture Pathways cultivates entrepreneurial thinking for students across all majors, through ongoing Venture 101 entrepreneurial education, mentoring, and coaching. FORGE Ahead sponsors resident startup acceleration, providing services and access to resources critical for scale and launch. FORGE Communities works alongside organizations and individuals who are passionate about their local innovation ecosystems, providing support for entrepreneurs and changemakers striving for impact wherever the University of Arizona has a presence.