Joshua Scott, director of operations for BioVidria, treats a microscope slide at the Arizona Center for Innovation. The biomedical company makes microscope slides that have better sensitivity and uniformity to help catch diseases earlier.

The high-tech business incubator at the University of Arizona Science and Technology Park was awarded a $1.5 million state grant from federal stimulus money to expand its programs.

The grant to the Arizona Center for Innovation (AZCI) was announced Wednesday by Gov. Jan Brewer, who handed a giant, ceremonial check to tech park CEO Bruce Wright before a crowd of about 100 people at an announcement event.

Brewer called the center "the engine that will power us into Arizona's second century."

"This is where innovation is turned into successful businesses," Brewer said. "To be successful in the global marketplace, and here at home, we have to be smarter and we have to be more aggressive than the other guy."

Wright said the money will be used to:

• Develop more laboratory space and buy lab equipment for the center's client companies, which have included several bioscience startups.

• Develop an intensive curriculum for business development to be used by other Arizona incubators, in partnership with the UA Eller College of Management.

• Establish a "Mentor in Residence" program, bringing in successful business people to provide advice to center clients.

"The inventors are typically not business people, so if we can help link them with an executive or a skilled entrepreneur, it will help them a lot," Wright said.

UA President Robert Shelton called the center "an important part of Southern Arizona's emerging technology ecosystem."

He said AZCI is "remarkably successful," having incubated more than 30 companies, and noted that the UA center was a finalist for the National Business Incubation Association's Incubator of the Year award.

UA President Emeritus Henry Koffler, a member of AZCI's advisory board, cited the success of Ventana Medical Systems, which was founded by UA pathologist Dr. Thomas Grogan in 1986 and was acquired by German pharmaceutical giant Roche in 2008 for $3.4 billion.

"We'd like to duplicate that effort many times over, and some of that will happen, maybe not in my lifetime but in yours," Koffler said.

One emerging success story at the incubator is BioVidria Inc. Founded by former UA chemistry professor Mary Wirth, the company has developed a new type of microscope microarray slide that uses a silica coating for ultra-sensitive diagnostic DNA and protein analysis.

BioVidria President and CEO Corey Smith joined the company after serving on its AZCI advisory board. The company, which joined the center in 2008, is finalizing its product design and expects to begin shipping final products by September, Smith said.

The center, Smith said, provides client firms with much-needed resources such as lab space, and advisors to help entrepreneurial-minded technology experts bring their inventions to market.

"It's adding the business component to an otherwise technology-centric entrepreneur," he said, adding that the company looks forward to using some of the new lab equipment the grant will provide.

New 'Innovation Arizona' website

At the UA tech park Wednesday, Gov. Jan Brewer announced a new state-hosted website, Innovation Arizona, at www.innovationaz.com, which provides access to a wide range of business development resources for entrepreneurs.

Contact Assistant Business Editor David Wichner at dwichner@azstarnet.com or 573-4181.