Arizona’s two largest universities leaders in commercialization of ideas

Over the past decade, Arizona’s two largest universities have intensified efforts to turn research into commercial enterprises. More than ever before, they are catering to entrepreneurs, whether students, faculty or outside inventors and investors.

Students and faculty are moving out of the classroom and into the global marketplace with the help of a variety of commercialization and entrepreneurship programs designed to take intellectual property platinum.

They’re succeeding. Last year, research at Arizona’s public universities infused more than $1.2 billion into Arizona’s economy. Much of it went into creating commercial successes. Between them, the two schools have helped launch close to 200 companies and hundreds of jobs.

Arizona State University (ASU) now ranks among the leading universities for U.S. patents and transforming research into businesses. The University of Arizona (UA) is catching up. UA President Robert Robbins started pushing for more commercialization programs, intent on “leading the Fourth Industrial Revolution.”

The university created Tech Launch Arizona (TLA), a technology transfer program, in 2014 to develop breakthrough inventions, products and companies. It has met or exceeded benchmarks for growth every year since its inception, said TLA Assistant Vice President Douglas Hockstad. Last year, TLA licensed 16 startups.  

“We have significantly moved up, and in many metrics we are a leader,” Hockstad said. “Our goal over the next five years is to be recognized by our peers as leaders in this area of commercialization, innovation and entrepreneurship.”

In addition to making profits, many of the new companies coming out of technology transfer and other programs are changing the world for the better. Here are a few:

Urbix Resources This Mesa-based company is the first to produce economically viable graphene-enhanced lightweight concrete. The material performs better and at a lower cost than current concrete alternatives. The company recently was awarded a U.S. Department of Energy technology development voucher for preliminary work towards the advancement of ultra-high purity isotropic graphite. Former students Nicolas Cuevas and Adam Small are president and chief marketing officer.

Codelucia A Tucson-based startup that specializes in error-correction technology for data storage and communications. The technology was jointly developed during the doctoral studies of co-founder and CEO Shiva Planjery. Angel investors ponied up $700,000 last year for this emerging star.

SinfoníaRx A state-of-the-art software system proactively evaluates hundreds of millions of prescriptions and medical claims annually to identify opportunities to reduce the risk of adverse events and drug interactions and look for opportunities to reduce the cost of medication treatments. This UA startup was acquired by public health care company Tabula Rasa HealthCare last year.

Nanobat Two ASU researchers pioneered developments in “DNA origami”: lab-engineered, self-folding DNA nanostructures that can be programmed to fight cancer and other infectious diseases. ASU has optioned its rights to the technology to a new startup company called Nanobot Biosciences that is working to develop nano-sized robots that can navigate the human body through the bloodstream to deliver treatments.

Regulonix UA College of Medicine researchers invented a new class of non-opioid compounds to treat pain. Animal testing has shown that the drug candidates are more effective than morphine, non-addictive, and non-toxic at high doses.

Gemneo Bioscience, Infamous for being ASU’s 100th spinoff company, its platforms are directed to identifying patients’ idiosyncratic disease cell and immune cell “signatures” and generating profiles that recommend immunotherapies oriented toward each patient’s specific illness and immune system traits.

Victoria Harker

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