Tech Launch Arizona to honor inventors and innovation leaders at September 26 annual gala
TUCSON, Ariz. – On September 26, 2023, Tech Launch Arizona, the office of the University of Arizona that commercializes inventions stemming from research, will host its annual I-Squared Awards and Expo event. Along with honoring the top inventors, entrepreneurs, and community leaders dedicated to commercializing UArizona inventions, the evening will include an expo of innovations and startups stemming from UArizona hosted by entrepreneurial, inventive teams.
“Research is a core strength at the University of Arizona, and we are always mindful of the need to move discoveries and innovations out into the world to make it a better place,” said University of Arizona President Robert C. Robbins. “I find it gratifying and energizing to see the I-Squared honorees every year. They truly embody our ideals as an impactful research university.”
In the 11 years since the office opened, TLA has worked with over 2,700 University of Arizona invention disclosures, executed over 530 licenses for companies to take university inventions into the marketplace, and launched over 135 startups. In the past 7 years, those startups have raised over $700M. Through TLA, the UArizona has grown into a leader that other universities look to as a model for excellence and best practices in technology commercialization.
“As a land-grant institution and a national leader in research, the University of Arizona is committed to generating impact for the greater good, said Interim Senior Vice President for Research and Innovation Elliott Cheu. “The I-Squared awards allow us to honor and give public recognition to innovators whose work has contributed to that mission by improving the lives of real people in our community and beyond.”
An economic impact report TLA released last year found that the work of TLA has supported a total of over 2,500 jobs, and between fiscal year 2017 and 2021 the office and its related activities generated an economic output of $1.61 billion. That impact is expected to grow to $4.7 billion by 2031.
“This is one of our favorite times of the year,” said TLA Associate Vice President Doug Hockstad. “As we look at all the accomplishments that have been made over the past 12 months, it’s challenging to identify those top performers among all the innovators in this unique world of technology commercialization deserving of these honors. We’re fortunate to be affiliated with so many outstanding inventors, entrepreneurs and supporters, and I am proud to offer each of them our team’s congratulations.”
Inventor of the Year: Floyd “Ski” Chilton, Director, Center for Precision Nutrition and Wellness
The Inventor of the Year award honors a UArizona innovator who has demonstrated a significant commitment to commercialization throughout their career, with a focus on activity in the past year. Dr. Floyd “Ski” H. Chilton is a professor of Nutritional Sciences and director of the Center for Precision Nutrition & Wellness. As an inventor, Chilton holds 9 U.S. patents and 9 foreign patents, and his inventions have been the driver behind several start-up companies including the public company, Pilot Therapeutic. His innovations have also served as the basis for anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory programs at a major pharmaceutical company.
Chilton founded or co-founded 4 startup companies and 1 non-profit. Along with being a successful academic researcher with over 150 publications, he has also penned five bestselling books, including Inflammation Nation, that have affected the lives of hundreds of thousands of readers. His innovative global initiatives with non-profit organizations have brought medical and food assistance to tens of thousands of people.
"I am deeply humbled to be recognized as the 'Inventor of the Year' by Tech Launch Arizona,” Chilton said. “Having been welcomed into this community five years ago, I've continually been inspired by the dynamic ecosystem and unyielding 'can-do' spirit that permeates this institution. It's truly been a primary catalyst for my inventive journeys and creative breakthroughs."
Startup of the Year: BG Networks
The Startup of the Year award is given to the startup that has, in the past year, had the most impact or significant activity. BG Networks was founded to commercialize cybersecurity inventions from the University of Arizona College of Engineering. This past year, the startup achieved a great milestone, releasing its second product, AnCyRTM (Anomaly Detection and Cyber Resilience), a host-based software anomaly detection technology based on UArizona research. The inventing team included UArizona College of Engineering professor emeritus of electrical and computer engineering Roman Lysecky and distinguished professor of electrical and computer engineering Jerzy Rozenblit. Other inventors on the project comprised former graduate student researcher Nadir Carreon and Johannes Sametinger, a professor at Joannes Kepler University Linz in Austria.
“I was absolutely thrilled and honored to hear this unexpected and exciting news,” said Rozenblit. “This recognition further reinforces our commitment to transferring university-based research into the marketplace. TLA’s support has been indispensable in getting us off the ground.”
Lysecky was likewise excited about the honor, saying, “BG Networks is deeply honored to be recognized as TLA’s Startup of the Year. I’m delighted by the quick progress we have made in developing our research outcomes into a commercial product, which would not be possible without TLA’s support.”
Student Innovator of the Year: Ashlesha Patil, graduate student in the Wyant College of Optical Sciences
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. This past year Ashlesha Patil developed a computer game that teaches measurement-based quantum computation through using tangrams – puzzles where users have to fit together flat polygons. According to Patil, the game is helpful to learners of many levels, from middle school students all the way up to researchers.
She received an Integrated Master's Degree in electrical engineering with specialization in microelectronics from IIT Bombay, India, working on quantum transport in semiconductors and quantum sensing using nitrogen-vacancy centers in diamond. She is currently a PhD student in the Wyant College of Optical Sciences studying cluster state models for linear optical quantum computing with Prof. Saikat Guha.
“I am very honored and grateful that TLA saw potential in our work,” said Patil. “To be named the Student Innovator of the Year means that I am on the right path to becoming a researcher who cares about not just the scientific value but also the societal impact of their work.”
Patil's project was funded by an Education Workforce Development (EWD) Fellowship through the University of Arizona-led NSF-ERC Center for Quantum Networks.
Campus Collaboration: UArizona Marketing and Brand Management
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. In recent years Tech Launch Arizona has been developing a strategy for a partner logo program concept that allows licensees of UArizona technologies to leverage the brand power of the university. TLA engaged with UArizona Marketing and Brand Management to develop an “Innovation Fueled by Arizona” logo program that offers this resource to licensees. As a public institution, the university prohibits private companies from using the university’s distinctive “block A” to support stories about their products that might have roots in UArizona innovation. Now, with a strict set of rules and guidelines in place, such partner companies can use the “Fueled By” logo to highlight the fact that their products are based on technologies developed at the university.
The project took many months of collaboration between the TLA and Marketing and Brand Management teams, and today, it is offered to every licensee as a benefit of working with the university.
“We are truly honored to be recognized as Campus Collaborators of the Year – this is really the very core of our mission to provide resources and support to partners across campus that are advancing our institutional goals,” said Frank Camp, UArizona Director of Marketing Strategy. “Our work with TLA has been exciting and rewarding as it tells the University story to an inspiring audience of entrepreneurs, inventors, and community leaders that are living our institutional mission of enriching life for all.”
Ecosystem Impact: The Arizona Technology Council
This award is reserved for a person or entity outside UArizona whose contributions have generated maximum success for university inventions and startups over the last year and over time. Since the inception of TLA 11 years ago, the Arizona Technology Council (AZTC) has been an avid supporter of commercialization and entrepreneurial efforts coming out of the UArizona. Launched in 2002, AZTC has grown to become Arizona’s top organization for networking and advocacy for science and technology companies. In recent years, TLA’s partnership with AZTC has grown and sparked multiple collaborations on events across the Tucson area aimed at catalyzing the ecosystem.
In an email to TLA, President and CEO Steven Zylstra, and Southern Arizona Vice President Karla Morales said, "Receiving the prestigious Ecosystem Impact Award underscores our unwavering commitment to catalyzing substantial and positive transformations within Arizona’s technology community. Our tireless efforts are dedicated to nurturing innovation, fostering collaboration, driving economic expansion, and cultivating a skilled and vibrant workforce. This award reaffirms our dedication to these critical pillars of growth, and it is an honor to be recognized for our progress within the technology sector and beyond."
The David N. Allen Award for Leadership & Vision: Joann MacMaster, CEO, Desert Angels
The David N. Allen Award is given to an individual who has exhibited a lifetime of contribution and dedication to UArizona commercialization and improving the innovation ecosystem in Tucson. Joann MacMaster has been dedicated to the advancement of entrepreneurship at UArizona and the entire innovation ecosystem for over a decade. An entrepreneur herself, MacMaster launched and sold her own business before taking on the roles of faculty advisor for sustainable entrepreneurship at Prescott College and director of the University of Arizona Center for Innovation.
When TLA launched in 2013, David Allen, senior vice president of TLA at the time, hired her to build a venture development program to nurture and launch startups formed to commercialize UArizona technologies. She served as senior director of venture development until 2020, at which time she transitioned into her current role as CEO of Desert Angels, an angel investment group focused on investing in regional startups and early-stage companies.
“TLA has an innovative and proactive approach to commercialization that inspires all of us to connect, engage, and serve. As a result, we have created a vibrant ecosystem with the ability to move research to market, creating social and economic impact,” said MacMaster. “This work of commercialization is a movement that started with David Allen, who brought us together and gave us one bold task: to change the world. With the contributions of everyone at TLA and in our extended community, we continue to move those inventions forward to market. I am honored to receive this award and proud to be part of the movement.”
She continues to maintain a close relationship with TLA, UACI, and the university, serving on the TLA advisory board and supporting startup entrepreneurs as they navigate the world of new ventures.
#MadeItHappen: Science of Sport
The #MadeItHappen award is a special honor that TLA gives to highlight and acknowledge special achievements made by an individual or company. When it comes to real and measurable impact from innovation, Science of Sport is a non-profit startup that has set a high bar. The brainchild of UArizona distinguished outreach professor and department head of systems and industrial engineering Ricardo Valerdi, Science of Sport provides programs for elementary and middle school students to improve their academic performance. The goal is to translate the familiarity of sports into an appreciation, understanding, and passion for the underlying science and mathematics. The company accomplishes these goals through after-school programs, curriculum development, field trips, school visits, sideline chats, STEM showcases, summer camps, and teacher workshops.
Today, the company’s partnerships have expanded across the nation, where communities and professional sports have come together to promote education to advance educational opportunities for young people. While baseball was the initial focus, Science of Sport has expanded its curricula to football, basketball, and soccer.
To date, they have trained over 6,000 teachers and impacted the lives of over 600,000 students.
“The coolest thing about the New York Mets is that their name spelled backwards is: STEM. See how much fun that was?” quipped Valerdi. “That’s the goal of Science of Sport, to make math and science fun for everyone. UA has provided the ideal platform for Science of Sport to be successful: administrators who value the importance of commercialization and world-class softball and baseball programs. Batter up!”
Science of Sport has gone on to form partnerships with other baseball teams, including the San Diego Padres, Anaheim Angels of Los Angeles, Los Angeles Dodgers, Oakland Athletics, Texas Rangers, Washington Nationals, Atlanta Braves, Colorado Rockies, Kansas City Royals, Chicago Cubs, and the MLB Urban Youth Academies.
If you are interested in attending the event, you may register below. Space is limited.