What is Tech Launch Arizona, and what can it do for Tucson and the UA? | Tech Parks Arizona
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What is Tech Launch Arizona, and what can it do for Tucson and the UA?

As a leading public research university, the University of Arizona created Tech Launch Arizona in 2012 to help facilitate the movement of inventions, technologies and intellectual property from the laboratory and into the marketplace.

TLA brings together UA faculty and researchers with businesses in the community to maximize research opportunities and innovation efforts.

“The University of Arizona is a powerhouse in research,” said David Allen, who heads Tech Launch at UA. “Communities of interest, like investment and technology communities, have expressed the desire to see the university become much more involved in commercializing research. TLA was created to deal with some of the underperformance that the university had in commercializing research.”

Much of the underperformance was attributed to the lack of financial and manpower resources as well as the lack of centralization between the three major existing offices: Tech Transfer Arizona, Tech Parks Arizona and Corporate Relations Arizona.

“There was a lack of confidence within the faculty in the mechanisms that had been created,” Allen said. “There were some pockets of activity that were outstanding, but it wasn’t broadly an attitude across the university.”

The creation of TLA has meant a fundamental restructuring and reengineering of policies and procedures to focus more on aiding faculty.

“We want to create an attitude that we can do this well, as well as any other university, there’s no reason that we can’t,” Allen said. “It’s just that before, there wasn’t the support, the attention to this that TLA has been able to catalyze and crystalize.”

Having TLA as a part of the presidential unit with a vice president has the head of the organization has been a crucial change. At most other universities, the units that TLA has brought together are separate units and not part of the university president’s cabinet.

“The biggest difference is by being at that level, I feel the heat on my neck to perform, but I also feel the wind to my back,” Allen said.

Having TLA at such a high level puts a certain amount of expectation and accountability on the unit, but it also provides TLA with the resources to meet those expectations. As a cabinet member, Allen said he has access to people and resources he wouldn’t have if he’d been buried within the university.

“Commercialization is something that is not the mainstream at universities. By putting it at that level, we’re bringing it into the mainstream. We can be engaged early on in the planning process so it’s not just an afterthought. We’re part of the early discussions and weaving our element into the fabric of the university as we’re changing it,” Allen said.

According to President Ann Weaver Hart, TLA has three major objectives: Commercializing technology; promoting industry-sponsored research and collaboration; and integrating the role of the UA Tech Parks within the UA research enterprise.

Hart said Allen’s knowledge, experience and expertise have been essential to the quick launch of TLA and the centralization and focusing of its many parts.

“Under his leadership,” Hart said, “I have seen a great shift toward the coordination of those parts and pieces and a new energy and commitment to the three areas of strategic focus.”

TLA consists of four major offices: Wheelhouse Arizona, Tech Transfer Arizona, Tech Parks Arizona and Corporate Relations Arizona. Together these offices work to guide research and startup companies through every stage of development.

“We’ve been working with the four units to create a much more cohesive whole, with strategies to cover the continuum from discovery to commercialization in a much more engaged and supportive way,” Allen said.

Over the last nine months TLA has:

•Launched five startup companies

•Filed 102 patents

•Funded 14 Proof of Concept research studies in inventor laboratories

Allen said most of the companies TLA works with come from research.

“These are not the quintessential social media companies that people hear about,” Allen said. “We don’t have a lot of those companies because social media is not what most of our faculty get paid to do research on. They get paid to do research addressing some of the most difficult aspects of understanding science.”

As a result, most of these companies take at least five to seven years to mature. So it’s still too early to truly see how much of an economic impact TLA can have on the Tucson community since many companies it’s working with are still in the early stages of development.

“So you’re not going to see an economic impact in the short term,” Allen said. “You’re going to see a couple companies come out, you’re going to see people’s attitudes changing, and you’re going to see more engagement and more activity.”

“It’s not for everybody,” Allen said. “It’s for a relatively small part of the faculty. But it only takes a few people to really make a difference in this world.”

Allen said he’s already seeing progress.

“We’re starting to see the faculty respond,” Allen said. “We’re going to get 180 invention disclosures, 50 more than ever received before at the university. We’re going to do 10 startup companies this year. Last year we only did three.”

One of TLA’s most successful projects is Sinfonia Rx. Through TLA, the UA licensed medication management technology developed at the College of Pharmacy to Tucson-based Sinfonia HealthCare Corporation in order to create Sinfonia Rx.

The technology evaluates millions of prescriptions and medical claims, finds opportunities to reduce risks of adverse events and drug interactions, improves medication adherence and reduces costs.

“The medication management center has been a part of the university for many years,” said Doug Hockstad, director of Tech Transfer Arizona. “There was a decision made that it had reached what it could do internally and that there was a lot more that could happen if it was outside the university but still maintained its ties to the university.”

After taking proposals from companies, they decided to work with Fletcher McCusker and Sinfonia.

“This example demonstrates the positive impact mutually beneficial partnerships between the UA and business can have on the public,” Hart said.

Allen said the next step for TLA is to start turning up the volume and scaling the operation to meet the goals set by the university.

“We have to get that next level of demonstration. It’s one thing to talk about revising structures,” Allen said. “A year and a half from now, we want to get to the level of 15 startups a year. Then we’ll be on the national screen. Right now we’re still running below the radar.”

Despite not yet having achieved national acclaim, TLA has drawn attention because of its structural changes and unique approaches to technology commercialization.

“There’s a lot of people watching what we’re doing and saying ‘Well we too have been underperforming in this area, is what the University of Arizona doing a way forward for us too?’ And we hope to be that innovation model for other universities who desire to do better in this area,” Allen said.

Allen said the Tucson community was very welcoming and open to the new ideas TLA has been working on.

“We really want to partner with the community,” Allen said. “It’s something that if we’re going to be successful, we need the help of others. And so my request is just don’t stand on the sidelines watching the game, come on and join in.”

By The Numbers

According to University of Colorado-Boulder statistics,

during Allen’s time at CU:

• 93 companies were created based on CU intellectual property

• CU’s tech transfer office received 2,120 invention disclosures

• CU’s tech transfer office filed 1,420 patents

• CU’s tech transfer office executed 325 exclusive license and options

Can David Allen do for Tucson what he did for Boulder, Colo., and Colorado University?

Before coming to the University of Arizona to serve as vice president for Tech Launch Arizona, David Allen spent 10 years at the University of Colorado-Boulder as the associate vice president for technology transfer.

Allen began at the CU Tech Transfer Office in 2002.

One of the standout features of Allen’s time at CU is the Annual Technology Transfer Awards, which Larry Nelson, founder of the W3W3 Media Network, described as “an informational networking party.”

“It was really very well attended and very prestigious,” said Chris Hazlitt, a partner at international law firm Bryan Cave. “It happened every January to focus on the prior year’s activity and that really solidified people’s enthusiasm and buy-in to what the tech transfer office was doing.”

This interaction with the community is something Trent Yang, Director of Private Equity at CU, said was important to the success of the tech transfer office.

“The city of boulder has become known as a hub of entrepreneurship, especially outside of Silicon Valley. And the university is a big part of that, the majority of tech start-ups come from the university and the technology is developed there,” Yang said. “The only way that can happen is to have a visible tech transfer office that works well with the community and the entrepreneurship community.”

Over the last 20 years, Boulder has become a center for technology innovation, said Mark Lupa, a partner at High Country Venture, a startup investment firm.

“There’s more money, there’s more people who’ve been involved with the university and tech transfer and there’s a culture of innovation here in Boulder now. Dave certainly played an important role in doing all of that,” Lupa said.

Nelson met Allen when he was conducting interviews with important figures at the University of Colorado.

“We sat down to talk and what was interesting, something that I was unaware of, is that back when he came, the people within the university who were inventing things, they had a moralistic view of not selling their ideas and inventions to business and the public,” Nelson said. “I was really surprised as a business person that it was such a problem.”

According to Nelson, Allen slowly worked to get the inventors, university officials and community members to open up to the idea of technology commercialization as an important source of revenue.

“Before he came here, the University of Colorado’s tech transfer office was a bit of a mess,” Lupa said. “And that’s not unusual, the tech transfer office didn’t really start getting formed until the mid-1990s, early 2000s.”

Lupa said this is when universities began to realize the money to be gained from tech transfer through grants and company formation and began paying closer attention to the technologies coming out of their universities.

“Dave really created a structure that wasn’t here before he got here,” Lupa said.

Allen took the small tech transfer office and created a more robust staff. Hazlitt said that early on, Allen partnered with key faculty members, particularly in the engineering and business schools, to help get the word out about tech transfer.

“The tech transfer office is only as good as its faculty invention disclosures and if the faculty isn’t really buying what they’re doing, they won’t submit invention disclosures and nothing happens,” Hazlitt said. “So Dave focused on boosting their confidence that the tech transfer office provides a valuable service to them and their laboratories.”

Breaking down Tech Launch Arizona by its parts

Wheelhouse Arizona

Wheelhouse Arizona is the one unit of Tech Launch Arizona that didn’t exist prior to TLA’s creation in 2012. The Wheelhouse provides commercialization assessment and resources for development. Its goal is to provide start-ups with direction toward achieving success.

When TLA was created, three existing units were brought under it; Tech Transfer Arizona, Tech Parks Arizona and Corporate Relations Arizona; and was moved from the Vice President of Research’s office to the president’s office.

“Those three units became intellectual property managers and a place to put technologies once they had matured,” said Sherry Hoskinson, Director of Wheelhouse Arizona. “There really wasn’t the capability to do the stuff between, to really manage the assessment, development and maturation of technology to get it to market.”

According to Hoskinson, technologies that are invented and discovered at the UA are in very early stages and it takes a lot to get them from this early stage of post faculty basic research to a commercial market. Before Wheelhouse was created, there wasn’t an entity focused on facilitating this transition.

Allen quickly saw the elements that were missing and created the Wheelhouse, Hoskinson said.

One of the main things Wheelhouse does is focus on the early stage of technology commercialization by identifying, understanding and validating the most promising commercial aspects of UA’s technologies.

The Wheelhouse Network is one major aspect of this. The network is comprised of people with experience as executive leaders, business development, marketing and product development. The group contributes to discussions about emerging technology at the UA to help enhance its effectiveness and impact.

Hoskinson said this network resembles the Innovation Center for the Rockies in Boulder. The Innovation Center for the Rockies is a stand-alone entity with a network of domain experts available to assist Colorado universities in assembling the right team to look at complex technology and understand the commercial possibilities. But unlike the Innovation Center for the Rockies, the Wheelhouse Network exists within TLA.

“Dave brought all those pieces together in one area,” Hoskinson said. “No one in TLA has to go outside to a separate network, we created the network within Wheelhouse.”

Hoskinson said Wheelhouse partnered with the city of Tucson, which paid $100,000 to put a network builder in residence in TLA for one year to help build the comprehensive network. It currently has over 500 vetted members with a couple hundred additional candidates who still have to go through the formal interview process to be accepted into the network.

The Proof of Concept program is essential in the identification and validation process. The POC gives UA faculty funding and support for prototype development of their ideas and technologies. This is one of the first steps on the path toward potential commercialization.

Technologies are often in too early of a stage to receive outside funding and advanced for general lab research funding. The POC program aims to help investigators solidify the technical and commercial aspects of their inventions and get them closer to the funding stage.

Hoskinson said the Wheelhouse makes a significant difference in getting technologies to the commercial marketplace that weren’t easy initial licenses.

In the past, if it wasn’t clear that technology would be able to be licensed to an existing company and there weren’t enough financial or people resources to do technology assessment, then tech transfer would say they had done everything they could do, Hoskinson said.

Then if faculty members wanted to keep their technology alive, they would have to start their own small shell company in order to get tech transfer to license the technology to them. Though faculty members would have the technology and ability to develop it, since it’s been transferred out of the UA and licensed to an outside company, faculty members can no longer work on it within their role in the university because it becomes a conflict of interest.

“They have to be able to assess and understand the commercial potential. They have to gather data, build the management team, understand the commercial environment, gather investment,” Hoskinson said. “The likelihood that a world class scientist with heavy responsibilities at the U of A is going to be successful in doing that is quite low.”

As a result many of the technologies that went through this process never went anywhere.

Now with Wheelhouse in place, faculty members have the ability to do all of that within the university. Wheelhouse works with faculty to go through all these steps and gives them the support to develop the company before it gets transferred out of the UA.

Tech Transfer Arizona

Tech Transfer Arizona handles the protection, marketing and licensing of intellectual property created by the university.

Doug Hockstad, director of Tech Transfer Arizona, said it’s a place where researchers can go to figure out what they have and what the right next steps are.

This office performs an assessment of the technology to find out what else is out there, what the patent landscape looks like and even what potential marketing materials could be.

It also aids researchers through the patent application process by pulling in outside attorneys to help guide faculty.

Then the office begins marketing the technology to see if there’s an interest in licensing and facilitates the negotiation of the license.

If it’s decided that a startup needs to be formed, Tech Transfer Arizona works with the Wheelhouse to bring in experts to talk about the technology and find the right people to help run the company.

Hockstad said Tech Transfer Arizona is unique because the majority of its staff is embedded half time in some of the major schools across campus.

“Being right on site means that they’re right next to the faculty, they’re talking to them on a daily basis and getting a feel for what the general research atmosphere is and who’s doing what,” Hockstad said. “One of the biggest jobs we have is to make sure the researchers know when and how to work with us. So having those embeds there helps that process because they’re talking to them every day.”

Tech Parks Arizona

Tech Parks Arizona oversees three main projects: The management of the UA Tech Park, the development of the UA Bio Park, and the operation of the AZ Center of Innovation.

Tech Parks Arizona assists technology companies in their business development by providing them with resources and the facilities to grow. Though the Tech Parks are designed to help companies in all stages of development, they’re primarily known for their work with startup companies.

According to Bruce Wright, the vice president of Tech Parks Arizona, it focuses on the middle stage of production development of getting the research out of the lab and into the marketplace.

The UA Tech Park has recently decided to increase the Tucson community’s access to the park and incorporate residential and retail facilities onto the site.

“The park has evolved over the years and we find more and more the public wanting access to it,” Wright said.

Opening access to the park is something Wright believes can help teach the community about science and technology, one of the park’s main goals as a part of the university.

The Tech Park currently houses more than 40 companies on its 1,345 acres, including Raytheon, IBM and Citigroup.

The Bio Park has yet to attract a major bioscience company to be its first tenant, but it already has essential infrastructure in place, such as roadways, water and sewer lines.

Allen said the UA is looking to broaden the focus of the Bio Park to extend beyond bioscience and open it up to other areas where the university has strong research.

Wright said he hopes to have a new name for the park chosen by this week.

There is also a focus on strengthening the connection between Tech Parks Arizona and the main University of Arizona campus.

Allen said the Tech Parks have had the most difficult time integrating with the other offices of TLA.

“More difficult because the Tech Parks have been around for a long time, 20 years, and are at a distance from the university. It’s been difficult to bridge that distance and get back to the university’s mission,” Allen said. “But not matter how difficult that is, we’ve determined that it has to happen to show that the Tech Parks exists to benefit the university, not just in name but also to provide a mechanism that faculty can use for their research.”

Corporate Relations Arizona

Corporate Relations Arizona builds and develops relationships with global companies and the university. Because of the UA’s status as one of the top 20 research universities in the country, Corporate Relations focuses on strategic relationships that include talent, academic connections and the potential for strong research collaboration.

The Corporate Relations Council, created six years ago, is a campus-wide network of experts who can respond to a company’s needs when requested.

Corporate Relations also looks at the infrastructure and support requirements for an industry engagement effort by the university.

Currently, it’s focusing on implementing a customer relationship management software platform that will allow people to look up companies and see what relationships the UA has with that company and who the UA’s contacts are.

Corporate Relations Arizona Director Nancy Smith said there have been many changes with public research universities in the last decade, particularly in terms of funding and where it comes from. An area that’s been defined as important for future funding support is private money.

“I think it’s fair to say universities are relying on companies more than ever for part of their funding support and partnership,” Smith said.

But the relationship between companies and universities is a two-way relationship. While companies provide universities with funding, universities also provide companies with employees.

Corporate Relations played a central role in the creation of the UA’s Defense and Security Research Institute, which aims to expand the university’s work in those areas with the goal of doubling research expenditures from $600 million to $1.2 billion by 2023.



David Allen, vice president for Tech Launch Arizona                                      The UA Tech Park






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