In Arizona, the travel, tourism and hospitality industries are booming, giving the state a major economic boost. In fact, Arizona is seeing major growth in this area as interest from sponsors and major sports events continues to climb. UA Venture Capital Fund LLC, a Tucson-based VC fund focused on University of Arizona spinoffs, senses the momentum. The Fund just announced its backing of a Phoenix-based startup with an online platform to help hotels and restaurants find temporary workers.
The VC firm, headed up by Fletcher McCusker, started just last year and has since deposited monetary interest in four companies. UA Venture participated in funding a seed round of growth capital for Qwick, Inc. The Phoenix-area hospitality employee database was founded by Blaine Light, a graduate of the UA College of Engineering.
Light’s company launched its online job-finding platform earlier this year and has since registered more than 4,000 hospitality professionals along with more than 125 hotels, catering companies, event venues, restaurants and bars. Light is no stranger to the gig economy as he spent time helping Uber expand its ride-sharing program here in Arizona and throughout other parts of the southwestern United States. Bringing skilled hospitality labor together with restaurants and bars in need during a busy time of year seemed like a natural fit.
“There has been a real shortage of venture capital and growth capital for Arizona based startups and a lot of our really smart, young entrepreneurs end up moving to places like Austin or Palo Alto,” notes McCusker of UA Venture Capital. “This is especially true in Tucson. UAVC is the first fund in Tucson.”
The funds will be used to further Qwick’s expansion into additional markets as well as create more opportunities to bring employees more jobs. Currently, the hospitality industry contributes about $23 billion to the state through visitor spending as well as $3.4 billion in tax revenue. More than 44 million overnight travelers are coming thru the state every year, giving way to around 325,000 jobs in hospitality. All these numbers are projected to rise given their consistent upward trajectory over the years.
On average, UA Venture Capital Fund has been giving out about $2 million per funding round. For Qwick, businesses are able to fill their shifts on short notice, in real-time, and hire vetted professionals for events, short periods of time or seasonal help.
Typically, using staffing agencies ends up costing restaurants, bars, hotels and cafes a higher amount than using a platform like Qwick.
“Qwick is the exact type of investment we look for, disruptive technologies, traction, opportunity, smart team, but without the capital resources to grow the company,” says McCusker. “The UofA obtained 265 patents just in the last year, and there is probably not another University this robust in research and innovation in the world.”
For UA Venture Capital Fund, the firm has helped bring funding to three other UA tech spinoffs including Codelucida, which specializes in high-performance data; Regulonix, which is developing a non-opioid painkiller; and Post.Bid.Ship, which presents an online trucking platform that brings together haulers and shippers.