Great news from Tech Launch Arizona: You're more inventive than ever

Great news from Tech Launch Arizona: You're more inventive than ever

By Paul TumarkinTech Launch Arizona
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Tech Launch Arizona's services include commercialization workshops for University innovators. This image is from a workshop aimed at engaging women and allies in STEM fields as well as the work of creating impact through invention and commercialization.
Tech Launch Arizona's services include commercialization workshops for University innovators. This image is from a workshop aimed at engaging women and allies in STEM fields as well as the work of creating impact through invention and commercialization.
Doug Hockstad, associate vice president for Tech Launch Arizona
Doug Hockstad, associate vice president for Tech Launch Arizona
Elizabeth "Betsy" Cantwell, senior vice president for research and innovation
Elizabeth "Betsy" Cantwell, senior vice president for research and innovation

At the beginning of July 2021, Joel Berkson, a doctoral student in optical sciences, reported an invention to Tech Launch Arizona that he and his doctoral adviser, Justin Hyatt, senior research associate in Steward Observatory, had developed: a new way of using lasers, cameras and software to measure the accuracy of curved surfaces such as antennas.

And at the end of June 2022, Deepta Bhattacharya, professor of immunobiology, submitted an invention describing how his team's research had generated lentiviral plasmids – a way of packaging bits of DNA –  that could be useful in developing therapies for chronic and deadly viruses with long incubation periods like HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. 

Those inventions bookend the 303 total invention disclosures TLA  – the office that commercializes University inventions –  received during fiscal year 2022, which began July 1, 2021, and ended June 30. This year marked a single-year record, a fitting milestone as the organization marks its 10-year anniversary.

"Tech Launch Arizona's 10 years is an outstanding milestone for us to take stock and check our progress," said University of Arizona President Robert C. Robbins. "I am so gratified to see our commercialization enterprise performing so successfully and delivering on our land-grant mission of providing real, measurable value back to our community and the state."

University employees are solving problems all the time, from developing medications to designing new devices to writing software. While they may be developing these inventions for a specific purpose internally at the University, their innovations may have a broader application out in the world. In those cases, they can contact TLA to discuss and "disclose" their inventions.

The office then does an analysis to see what the market opportunity looks like, if the University can patent the invention, and see if there is a licensee who can take it forward.

During fiscal year 2022, TLA filed 389 patents for new inventions on behalf of the University; during this same period, the University received 87 issued patents for technologies that had been filed in previous years. TLA also executed 116 licenses and options, many of which were to existing companies – from small organizations to large multinational corporations – permitting them to integrate University inventions into their products and services. Other licenses were to startups formed around University technology to bring the innovations to market.

This past fiscal year, 10 more startups were developed from University inventions, bringing the total number of companies formed since 2013 to 128. These companies bring University research-based inventions to the world for the public good and create jobs and economic impact for Arizona.

"Following on the recent release of our latest impact numbers demonstrating the effect we've had in the community, we're proud to have had another strong year," said Doug Hockstad, associate vice president for Tech Launch Arizona. "It shows that we're continuing to increase the inventive mindset of researchers, faculty and staff across campus. All of this activity keeps the pipeline strong, so we'll be able to continue to grow our impact in the coming years."

In May, TLA released its latest economic impact report, which indicated that startups and business developed through the office supported more than 2,500 jobs and $561 million in labor income in Arizona between fiscal years 2017 and 2021. TLA has helped facilitate more than $1.6 billion in economic activity since 2016. Since the formation of TLA a decade ago, the number of new University startups has nearly tripled; from 1984 through 2012 (years preceding the formation of TLA), the University had spun out 73 startups. Since TLA's inception, that number has grown to over 200. Additionally, in the past eight years, startups have raised more than $600 million in grant and equity funding, an indicator that they are attractive to outside investors.

"The ability to connect meaningfully with communities and create a brighter future for all is integral to our land-grant mission," said Elizabeth "Betsy" Cantwell, senior vice president for research and innovation. "As we see with this year's University of Arizona-based inventions and startups, commercialization serves as a powerful bridge between University research and innovation and real-world impact in our state and our communities."

Some examples of the 10 software, engineering and health science startups launched by TLA in fiscal year 2022 are below.

  • BG Networks Inc., developing a cybersecurity framework for adaptive risk assessment and automated mitigation. The company was founded on technology invented by Jerzy Rozenblit, Distinguished Professor, and Roman Lysecky, professor emeritus, both in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.
  • MetFora LLC, leveraging metabolite biomarkers to detect chronic lung disease, heart disorders and cancers in their early stages. The startup is based on the work of Ruslan Rafikov and Olga Rafikova, both associate professors in the College of Medicine – Tucson.
  • Gloss Institute Inc., providing tools and procedures developed by Samuel Supalla, associate professor emeritus in the Department of Disability and Psychoeducational Studies, based on American Sign Language Gloss to facilitate deaf students' learning and English literacy.

You can see the full list of startups on the Tech Launch Arizona website.

"Our doors are wide open," Hockstad said. "It all starts with a conversation, and our team wants to talk with anyone and everyone on campus who wants to maximize the impact of their innovative work. We're here to provide that service to the UArizona community."

Anyone interested in learning more about TLA should contact Paul Tumarkin, assistant director of marketing communications, at pault@tla.arizona.edu.

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