New Initiative Puts UA Research to Work for Small Businesses

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A new UA initiative aims to drastically increase the region's economic competitiveness by putting the power of research behind new and small businesses.

At the April 2014 Faculty/Small Business Meetup, TLA brought together UA faculty and local small business to network and discuss the pursuit of SBIR funding.

The University of Arizona has launched an initiative focused on drastically increasing the region's economic competitiveness by putting the power of research behind new and small businesses with the help of federal funding and regional partnerships.

The SBIR/STTR Competitiveness Initiative will identify and pursue opportunities offered through two federally funded efforts designed to stimulate small business growth and economic development: the Small Business Innovation Research program and the Small Business Technology Transfer program.

The SBIR program supports technology innovation by providing federal funds to help grow small technology-based businesses, which then contribute to a strong economy. The STTR program cultivates public-private partnerships by encouraging collaboration between small businesses and nonprofit research institutions, such as the UA.

Both programs provide much-needed capital for the development of important technologies. Arizona, traditionally, has performed in the mid-range relative to other states when it comes to SBIR/STTR funding.

Led by the UA's Tech Launch Arizona – the unit that helps UA faculty and researchers commercialize inventions arising out of research – the University has set a goal to increase competitiveness and become one of the top 10 regions per capita in the nation.

"This type of initiative fits perfectly with the land-grant mission of the UA, cultivating businesses that are creating an economic and social impact for Tucson and the state of Arizona," said Sherry Hoskinson, Wheelhouse director at Tech Launch Arizona. Wheelhouse is the branch of TLA that oversees commercialization operations.

One success story is Avery Therapeutics, a new company in its formation stages that is developing a novel therapy to treat heart failure. Tech Launch Arizona is helping Avery on an STTR proposal for funding from the National Institutes of Health. TLA also helped to design proof-of-concept experiments to test the safety and efficacy of the therapy, build a business leadership team, and develop a long-term commercialization plan.

Over the past year, TLA has completely re-engineered the University's technology commercialization strategy. This includes providing services to the campus community for protecting intellectual property born of research, organizing a network of hundreds of volunteer experts to help shape and inform new technology businesses, implementing well-funded programs for Proof of Concept projects and Commercial Feasibility Studies, partnering with University Libraries for the collection of business intelligence, and the formation of a team focused on bringing new technologies to the marketplace through startups.

In remarks to the U.S. House of Representatives last month, U.S. Rep. Ron Barber of Arizona highlighted the UA initiative and the success of its programs.

"It's pretty clear to me from my vantage point that SBIR and STTR programs are some of the most effective programs we've got in the federal government for spurring innovative ideas and job creation," he said. "We (in Arizona) have globally competitive businesses that have benefited from these programs, both startups and new companies that have expanded at developing new commercialization of groundbreaking technologies."

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