The University of Arizona’s technology commercialization arm posted across-the-board increases in startup companies, license agreements and other measures in fiscal 2017.
The results for the fiscal year ended June 30 mark five years of continual year-to-year improvements in nearly all areas since Tech Launch Arizona was formed in 2013.
The UA reported 261 invention disclosures filed by faculty members last fiscal year, up from 250 in 2016.
The school filed for 334 U.S. patents, up from 278 in 2016; posted 105 licenses (up from 97 in the prior year); and formed 15 startup licensee companies, one more than in 2016.
UA patent issuances rose about 30 percent to 47 in fiscal 2017, while license revenue also grew about 30 percent to $2.7 million.
“It’s evidence that our faculty members have been responding and the networks we’ve been building have been working with them,” David Allen, vice president of Tech Launch Arizona, said of the results.
Tech Parks Arizona also showed growth, inking new client agreements with companies from Israel, Mexico and the U.S. The park on South Rita Road also increased occupancy for a total of 44 companies that employ more than 5,990 people, up about 10 percent from 2016.
Allen attributed the improvement in new Tech Launch programs partly to his agency’s development of a network of subject-matter experts and “commercialization partners” who recognize the quality of UA inventions.
Joann MacMaster, TLA’s director of business development, said the UA now has some 1,400 “domain experts” across the nation and about 25 commercialization partners, including executives ready to advise clients or even step into executive roles at UA startups.
Many are UA alums eager to help.
“They’re located all over, and they’re really happy to be with the program because they want to give back, to pay it forward,” MacMaster said.
A mentor-in-residence program begun last fiscal year with four mentors also has helped push faculty inventions to market, she said.
Doug Hockstad, Tech Launch assistant vice president who oversees the patent efforts, said that with the current pipeline of patent applications he expects those issuances to go up this year.
As part of that, the agency’s patent and legal budget of about $2.1 million is expected to grow about 10 percent this fiscal year, he added.
Keeping the tech-transfer momentum going will not be easy, Allen said.
But Tech Launch Arizona is still refining its programs to make sure faculty inventors are well-served, he said, citing the importance of keeping faculty members engaged and returning with new ideas.
“We need to continue to provide the level of service that induces people to come back,” Allen said, noting that about half of the agency’s current faculty clientele are first-time entrepreneurs.
Some new initiatives are in the works as well.
This year, Tech Launch Arizona hopes to launch a venture-capital “seed fund” to help support UA-related startups in their very early stages.
The size of the fund and other details are still being worked out, but Allen said he hopes to get it going this fall.
Allen also plans to deepen and broaden its collaborations across the Tucson region, with partners including Innovate UA, the Eller College of Management’s McGuire Center for Entrepreneurship, the Arizona Center for Accelerated Biomedical Innovation and the UA Office of Research, Discovery and Innovation, and Startup Tucson.
This fiscal year, Tech Parks Arizona will continue to pursue expansion, with completion of the funding strategy, planning, design and initial construction of an Innovation and Technology Building at the UA Tech Park at The Bridges.
At the UA Tech Park at Rita Road, Tech Parks also is working toward developing The Village at the UA Tech Park, a 175-acre, mixed-use development that includes retail, commercial, residential and hotel development.
Allen said his new boss, UA President Robert C. Robbins, is very supportive of Tech Launch Arizona’s efforts.
“President Robbins is enthusiastic and has experience and is informed about technology commercialization,” Allen said. “He gets it.”