An initiative launched this semester aims to link technology developed at the UA with the resources needed to bring it to the market.
Tech Launch Arizona launched on Monday and immediately began its search for an executive director. The initiative will restructure university technology transfer and commercialization by bringing inventors, the community and investors closer together.
The effort will bring efforts and offices throughout campus into one organization, and the executive director will report to President Eugene Sander. The project developed out of conversations about how the UA can interact more effectively with the private sector, said Leslie Tolbert, the UA’s vice president for research.
“We do all kinds of fantastic work in the university,” Tolbert said. “We publish about it but we don’t do the best job we could to see that good ideas make it out to practical use.”
Tech Launch Arizona aims to address some of the barriers to commercializing inventions and discoveries by consolidating resources and providing funding for proof of concept tests, or prototyping and testing. These stages help attract the interest of investors and companies, Tolbert said.
“They’re all steps before commercialization,” Tolbert said. “What we’re trying to do is take inventions and discoveries a step farther than we are right now.”
The Office of Technology Transfer provides funding for the testing stages of some researchers’ inventions. About $1 million a year in funding from the Technology Research Initiative Fund, which comes from a state sales tax, will be used to increase this funding through Tech Launch Arizona, Tolbert said.
“Now we’re going to be doing that in a much more robust way,” she said.
Tech Launch Arizona also aims to work more closely with the Eller College of Management. Len Jessup, dean of the college, is the chair of the Board of Directors for Tech Launch Arizona.
“Everyone would like to see a closer marriage of technology transfer and the Eller McGuire Center for Entrepreneurship,” Jessup said, adding the center is a “commercialization engine.”
Students in the program could create startups based on products coming out of the university, Jessup said. They can also help with business plans.
“The university gets the chance for technology or discoveries to be vetted,” Jessup said. “The technology is exposed to a lot of different entities.”
The initiative will not immediately have a physical center, though that is a long-term goal, Tolbert said. Jessup is working to find an executive director and further establish a board of directors, which may take a few months, he said.
The ideal director will have a background in science and technology as well as business experience. Tech Launch Arizona is increasing the university’s focus on bringing inventions to market, he said.
“It’s definitely going to help,” Jessup said. “The university needs to do this to help the UA be more self-sustaining.”