One Year Later, Tech Launch Arizona Showing Impact

One Year Later, Tech Launch Arizona Showing Impact

By Paul TumarkinTech Launch Arizona
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Amy Phillips, Licensing Manager for the College of Optical Sciences, delves into the finer points of protecting an invention with a Commercialization Workshop attendee.
Amy Phillips, Licensing Manager for the College of Optical Sciences, delves into the finer points of protecting an invention with a Commercialization Workshop attendee.
The TLA panel of experts was on hand to respond to audience questions during an open Q-and-A at the Oct. 29 commercialization workshop.
The TLA panel of experts was on hand to respond to audience questions during an open Q-and-A at the Oct. 29 commercialization workshop.

Tech Launch Arizona has been moving fast, and it's about to get faster.

"We're full speed ahead," says David Allen, vice president of Tech Launch Arizona.

While any number of other universities have tech transfer programs, the University of Arizona has made the effort an imperative.

Using "The TLA Roadmap" to plot and measure their course, Allen and his team are putting the elements in place and bringing resources together to build a complete "innovation ecosystem" that includes the UA, the city of Tucson, and a network of business resources and experts that extends nationwide.

TLA, which was launched about a year ago, has filled all of its key staff positions and is fully ramped-up for business. Most recently, the organization brought on Rakhi Gibbons as assistant director of Biomedical and Life Sciences Licensing, Betsey Wagener as licensing manager embedded at the College of Medicine, and Paul Tumarkin as marketing and communications manager.

Organizationally, Tech Launch Arizona includes Tech Transfer Arizona (formerly called the Office of Technology Transfer), Tech Parks Arizona (formerly called Office of University Research Parks) and Corporate Relations Arizona (formerly called the Office of Corporate and Business Relations).

"We were moving fast before," says Allen, "but now we've really got all the pieces we need in place to service the entire UA community of researchers and inventors."

Targeted Expertise for Every Technology Focus

Wagener is the final of seven "embeds" within six colleges and BIO5; their salaries are evenly split between TLA and the units where they are stationed. Their raison d'etre is to work closely with the faculty and researchers, helping them analyze inventions for the purpose of securing intellectual property and patents. They strategize the right market channels for each invention and build connections with potential investors and companies to move the technology out to the public.

As of today, Tech Transfer Arizona has seven embedded licensing managers, covering the College of Science, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the College of Medicine, the Eller College of Management, the BIO5 Institute, the College of Optical Sciences and the College of Engineering.

"We look at the technology itself and then strategize the best avenues to move it into the market," says Doug Hockstad, director of Tech Transfer Arizona. "Often, we play the role of matchmaker and do analysis to find just the right company to license a new piece of intellectual property. Other times, if the tech is really unique and stands alone, the best strategy might be to leverage the idea to create a startup company.

"Either way," says Hockstad, "it's a win for the inventor and a win for the University."

Partnering for Optimal Tech Transfer

In its most recent success, TLA worked with computer science professors Richard Snodgrass and Saumya Debray and their then-graduate student Rui Zhang to commercialize a new technology called "micospecialization" that makes databases perform faster.

"We were all delighted with the win-win approach," Snodgrass said about TLA’s process.

Sherry Hoskinson, director of TLA's WheelHouse, helped Snodgrass and his collaborators form a new company called Dataware Ventures. They then worked with the Tech Transfer Arizona team to create a licensing agreement to convey the intellectual property rights to the new company. 

TLA and its constituent units are continuing to hone and customize these processes to help UA innovators bring their technology inventions to the world.

Open Workshops and Office Hours

"Now that we’ve got our people, procedures and processes in place," says Allen, "we are seeing a strong increase in faculty's interest as evident in inventions being disclosed to us and the business community’s willingness to get involved."

To build the "innovation ecosystem" across campus, TLA has been offering a series of technology commercialization workshops, which are open to the campus community and cover topics such as "Protecting Your Invention" and "Working With Industry on Research."

The fall series just ended. TLA will offer more workshops in the spring.

"Our goal is to help the community of inventors understand the tech transfer process, and then build the critical mass of outside experts and internal analytical processes to move their inventions out the door," says Allen. "Even for investigators who aren’t sure about where to start, even if you just are at the beginning of an idea, our doors are open to talk about the issues and opportunities around intellectual property."

One aspect of the new TLA process is a streamlined disclosure form that is brief, easy to complete, and serves as a trigger to open the conversation.

If you are working on a technology idea that you think might have business potential, or if you're just curious, contact the TLA Licensing Manager most appropriate to your field or visit a TLA team member during office hours, held every Tuesday from 9-11 a.m.

All are invited to get in touch, meet the TLA staff, and become a part of the UA's "innovation ecosystem."

For a listing of the latest events and to get to know the TLA staff, visit http://techlaunch.arizona.edu

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