Doug Hockstad Assistant Vice President
Joann MacMaster Sr. Dir Venture Development
Gus Loaiza Accounting/Asset Dev Coordinator
Paul Tumarkin Sr. Manager, Marketing and Communications
Rakhi Gibbons Director of Licensing
At Tech Launch Arizona, we help bring discoveries to the world through commercial pathways. Our primary focus is on ensuring that technologies and innovations originating with UA researchers find meaningful application.
Asset Development Program Through Asset Development funds, we provide resources to move earlystage inventions toward being licensable, market-ready projects. This past year, TLA provided $646,072 in new awards for 16 projects.
Venture Development The Venture Development team consists of our Mentors-in-Residence and Commercialization Network teams, all of whom collaborate closely to maximize the success of UA startups.
How would you describe the need for gap funding/accelerator programs to someone outside of the university tech commercialization/innovation community?
University research presents a compelling opportunity for commercialization, but sometimes the innovation itself may not be ready for license into a company. Certain questions need to be addressed: Do we need a prototype to illustrate that the invention can be physically built? Do we need a feasibility study? Would we be better positioned if we had a better understanding of the regulatory issues that influence application or product development? To address these types of questions, many universities offer gap funding to help advance inventions and prepare them for license.
Briefly describe the gap funding or accelerator program(s) that you have put in place to address this need?
Tech Launch Arizona's Asset Development (AD) Program provides early gap funding needed to advance and prepare inventions for license. Examples of projects might include prototype development, feasibility or scalability testing, or a regulatory pathway strategy assessment.
Awards from the roughly $1million per year fund (with the average award being about $40k) are non-competitive, and we accept applications and make awards year-round. The TLA team works closely with the inventing team to develop an appropriate work plan and budget. To qualify, the technology must be formally disclosed to TLA, not yet licensed or optioned, and the primary inventor must be a UA employee.
Since its launch in 2013, TLA has awarded over 100 proposals, and 80 projects have been completed. Of those, about 30 percent have been licensed or are close to license.
What are the major challenges that you have experienced thus far and how have you addressed these in your program(s)?
Because there are so many moving parts in Asset Development, we have encountered a number of challenges along the way – and we’re always learning from them and adapting. Are we investing in the right technologies? How do we track projects and the day-to-day operations? What happens after the AD project is complete? Are we increasing our licensing rates?
To address such questions, our Licensing Managers and Mentors-in-Residence work closely with the PI to understand the technology and its champions throughout every AD project. The proposal process includes presenting the technology to our network of Commercialization Partners that provide objective feedback. With this information the LM and PI complete an initial work plan that gets presented to the AD leadership team for final approval.
In the past there was an internal disconnect between the AD coordinator and the finance team. Essentially projects were being awarded without the finance team’s knowledge and the project would inevitably be delayed as the account would not be available to process expenses or there would be additional back and forth reviewing budgets, in some cases removing unallowable expenses. Based on the lessons we learned, we have now centralized this operation. As we consider new projects for approval, the project and finance teams collaborate to review the budget so that once the official award is sent, the project can immediately commence. Also, with the creation of our new AD Dashboard, the project status and financial information are being regularly maintained and are always accessible to the team.
Once projects are complete, we require a Post-AD meeting where the PI presents the project findings, successes and challenges. They also provide a timeline of next steps, such as potential additional funding (NIH, SBIR), licensing options and/or the possibility of a startup. Completed projects are also tracked in the AD dashboard, highlighting among other things unlicensed inventions that might be appropriate for licensing opportunities. Finally, because projects are tranched – meaning specific milestones must be met to receive the next phase of funding – we can monitor it throughout its lifecycle, and maintain the option to terminate if a project is determined to be unviable.
What are you most proud of [in relation to your program(s)]? What is meaningful impact to you?
We are proud of the AD process we have honed over the past several years. Including more people in the process, centralizing the AD operations, and creating a dashboard for tracking and reporting have improved both our control of AD and the outcomes. The most important result we can achieve is getting university innovations out to the world where the products of our faculty research can change people’s lives. This effort also creates closer relationships with our faculty, opening doors for ongoing conversations, more invention disclosures, increased follow-on work, and ultimately, greater impact.
What is one piece of advice to your university peers that are either launching or developing gap funding and accelerator programs of their own?
It’s an holistic approach. It's essential to have leadership from across campus -- from the university president on down through the deans and department heads -- believe in this process and understand that if we invest time and funds up front there is tangible ROI.
What have you found most valuable from your participation as a member of the Community of Action?
Having access to the community, being able to network with other universities and industry experts, gaining exposure to best practices via the vast resources from the Innovosource website. (Learn about joining the Community of Action)
The lack of true early-stage capital and innovation developmental support is a major challenge in advancing promising university technology from the lab to commercial and investment partners.
Research institutions are leading through the implementation of university gap funding (proof of concept, startup, venture) and accelerator programs to bridge this "valley of death". Over the past 15 years, these programs have evolved into sophisticated investment, evaluation, development, and commercialization support mechanisms to nuture the most promising opportunities in emerging, high-growth technology areas.
Mind the Gap is a 15-yr old initiative of innovosource to analyze, advocate for, and create community around university gap funding and accelerator programs. To-date the inititive has supported more that 300 institutions through reports, web-workshops, events, and consulting services.
The Community of Action is a community of practice + accelerator for university gap fund and accelerator programs. We share best practices, meet virtually/in-person to address common challenges, and build data, impact, and custom reporting tools to program development.