Sold on Synergy: Student Inventors, Entrepreneurs Get Launched
Tech Launch Arizona has begun a number of student-focused initiatives to promote technology commercialization opportunities and programs, helping young inventors and entrepreneurs move their ideas to market.

University Relations - Communications
Sept. 30, 2014


TLA Ambassador program founders Dominic Villela  and Zach Brooks  with TLA Wheelhouse director Sherry Hoskinson.
TLA Ambassador program founders Dominic Villela and Zach Brooks with TLA Wheelhouse director Sherry Hoskinson. (left)

Through a coordinated, centralized, student-focused initiative, Tech Launch Arizona and its partners are expanding support for students interested in turning their ideas into nonprofit organizations and businesses.

The need to accelerate economic growth for the state and provide opportunities for graduates carrying advanced degrees, especially in high-tech domains, is driving the tech commercialization arm of the University of Arizona.

"We are helping students engage with resources to help them turn their ideas into businesses; we are partnering with people and organizations across the community to provide these services; we are encouraging students to be innovators and see the business potential in their creative ideas," said David Allen, vice president of TLA.

Closely aligned with the University's Never Settle strategic plan, TLA's student-focused activities "touch on every pillar of the Never Settle plan," Allen said.

"We are developing synergies between all these support elements to open more opportunities and increase each student entrepreneur's chances of success," Allen said. The division's efforts also complement other student-focused efforts across campus.

In less than two years, TLA has introduced:

  • The TLA Ambassadors program, in partnership with the Graduate & Professional Student Council. Ambassadors, who have an interest in high-tech careers, inform other UA students about commercialization opportunities and connect student inventors and entrepreneurs with resources on and off campus.
  • The Student Fellows program, whereby students work with the technology transfer office and TLA licensing managers to help assess newly disclosed UA inventions.
  • Opportunities for students to work with UA startup companies serving as interns. With the UA spinning out about one new company each month, numerous opportunities exist for students to learn about the tech transfer process, while helping to promote and elevate the new businesses.

TLA also had a hand in creating the Student Innovation Fellows program, sponsored by the Office of the Chief Information Officer and the IT Student Advisory Board, which will involve students in the development of an individual project.

Also, TLA supports First Friday Pitch Day, a monthly "open mic" event allowing students to pitch their ideas and receive feedback from business and innovation experts at the UA and in private industry. The next event will be held Oct. 3 on the fourth floor of the Tech Launch Arizona offices, 220 W. Sixth St.

Also offered are the Invention to Impact Workshops and the Idea to Asset seminars, programs that provide information on how to commercialize inventions. These are open to students, researchers, faculty and employees of the UA.

GPSC president Zachary Brooks, a doctoral candidate in the Second Language Acquisition and Teaching program, and UA alumnus Dominique Villela, CEO of Injected Media, created the TLA Ambassadors program in collaboration with TLA.

"With the help of the Tech Launch Arizona, our goal is attainable — the goal to amplify marketing of existing student inventor, startup and tech growth programs and activities in Tucson and the University of Arizona," said Villela, who designed his career around technology marketing. "Sure, we want to encourage innovation, but we ultimately want to attract new dollars to Tucson and retain our outstanding graduates."

GPSC and TLA also are partnering with other local businesses "to make sure we are complementing efforts," Brooks said. "When we are complementary, we can enhance each other's goals. We also want to build the entrepreneurial ecosystem, which will encourage graduates to stay here."

Brooks noted that as graduates with advanced degrees struggle to find positions within academia, he and his partners are working to expand diverse job and career options for students and graduates.

He also noted that, given the size of the student population, it makes the most sense to involve students in all levels of intellectual property activities.

"TLA realizes that if we do not involve students, they are cutting off a lot of people who could be involved," said Brooks, a TLA Ambassador. 

Brooks also emphasized the importance of involving University students in startup and technology growth activities. This can benefit the state, as graduates spinning out businesses or advancing inventions may be more receptive to the idea of staying in Arizona, he said.

Allen wants students to be involved in all of the steps the along the way to commercialization. 

"When students are inventors, they should understand their rights and responsibilities," Allen said, noting that TLA licensing managers are housed across campus to help faculty researchers as well as student researchers and inventors.

"The more students can connect with TLA, the more impactful their work can be, and the more they'll know as they move on in their careers."

Extra info

Beginning in October, Tech Launch Arizona is hosting a series of "Invention to Impact" workshops, which are open to all UA scientists, researchers and students. This year's commercialization series, held at Wednesdays at lunchtime, will cover the essential knowledge needed to move research into the commercialization process. Registration is required and is available online.


Resources for the media

Paul Tumarkin

Tech Launch Arizona