University of Arizona Center for Innovation Headquarters & Regional Outposts
By Romi Carrell Wittman
The UArizona Center for Innovation is not an island. Rather, it’s a well-developed incubator network supported by Tech Parks Arizona. There are several UACI outposts located throughout Southern Arizona, each designed to foster innovation specific to the region. All of UACI’s startup companies participate in their programming, some do so from one of these locations, while others participate virtually.
Like the primary location at the UA Tech Park at Rita Road, UACI’s various hubs provide resources and hands-on support to both entrepreneurs and their communities, while immersing them in a culture of creativity, comradery and scholarship.
These outposts aren’t merely ancillary offices. They are integral to UACI and its mission. Tech Parks Arizona VP Carol Stewart said UACI and its outposts are an extension of the purpose-built environments we create. “UACI is part of Tech Parks Arizona. It is the heart of our community of innovation,” she said.
“We build dynamic, interactive communities where emerging companies and technology giants work side by side. These innovative campuses provide the ideal environment to bump into like-minded colleagues where they can discuss challenges and new opportunities on the horizon,” added Stewart.
UACI at UA Tech Park
Located on Tucson’s east side, the UA Tech Park was “born” in 1994 when University of Arizona purchased IBM’s campus and transformed it into an R&D tech mecca. The powerful connection with the University of Arizona allows companies to immediately plug into the talent and research expertise of the university. In 2001, the UA Tech Park was named the top university research park in North America by the Association of University Research Parks and has since been commonly referred to as “Technology’s Best Address”.
Today, the nearly 1,300-acre site is host to more than 100 tenants and is the headquarters of UACI. Businesses are drawn to the UA Tech Park for its culture and state-of-the art facilities, which include offices, R&D space and laboratories as well as numerous amenities.
The laboratories offered here represent a best practices environment, having adopted the Good Laboratory Practices – or GLP. The UA Tech Park’s official GLP-certified laboratory facilities ensure that the lab standards and equipment are at the highest caliber for non-clinical research, essential for those seeking FDA approval. The UACI’s wet and dry laboratory spaces give early and mid-stage companies the ideal platform for product development. The “rent-a-bench” program cannot be found anywhere else in Southern Arizona for startups, allowing companies the flexibility to expand their laboratory space while ramping up their operations to support the company’s growth. Therefore, companies who “rent a bench” have a solid foundation and can easily build their business using shared equipment, lab space and research documentation templates.
The 223-acre Solar Zone, serves as a living laboratory for startups to test and demonstrate new renewable energy technology with the ability to directly connect to the Tucson Electric Power grid. The Solar Zone is designed to provide university and industry researchers with the ability to evaluate various technologies as they perform side by side. Testing various technologies under identical operating conditions allows developers to determine when systems are most efficient and economical. The Solar Zone has grown to be one of the largest multi-technology solar demonstration sites in the United States.
UACI at The Bridges
The UA Tech Park at The Bridges is the newest star in the Tech Parks Arizona galaxy. Located just 3½ miles south of the UArizona main campus in central Tucson, the UA Tech Park at The Bridges is a 65-acre innovation hub that’s home to a diverse and vibrant array of university organizations and tech companies.
The UA Tech Park at The Bridges is part of a larger 350-acre mixed use development that includes both residential and retail development, known as The Bridges. This campus falls within an Opportunity Zone, meaning those who invest can receive substantial tax benefits. Development plans forecast that the location will offer 1.2 million square feet of office and laboratory space when fully built out.
The first building opened at the site is named The Refinery, a nod to its proximity to the talent and innovation mined from the university. The 120,000 square-foot, four-story building serves as Arizona’s innovation and commercialization hub, creating a centralized location that bridges resources and accelerates the most promising inventions. The Refinery houses several UArizona entities such as Tech Launch Arizona; UArizona Online, Distance, and Continuing Education; UArizona Applied Research Corporation; College of Applied Science & Technology; faculty/student innovation space aligned with the UArizona Office of Research, Innovation and Impact; and coming soon, an additional regional incubator outpost of UACI. The Refinery is also home to corporate clients including Raytheon Missiles & Defense. In addition to The Refinery, the UA Tech Park at The Bridges is home to the UArizona Mission Integration Lab and development plans are in process for the new Arizona Public Media complex.
UACI at Biosphere 2
In 2022, UACI opened an incubator outpost at Biosphere 2, located in Oracle, north of Tucson. Its focus is climate sustainability, renewable energy and sustainable tech.
Biosphere 2 gained notoriety in the 1990s for its closed-system experiment involving a human crew of seven. UArizona purchased the site in 2011.
Uniting the one-of-a-kind research facility with the university’s incubator network provides the ideal partnership to translate research into real-world impact. UACI at Biosphere 2 was launched with four startups, each going through UACI’s 27-point roadmap program. Entrepreneurs use various physical spaces at Biosphere 2 to test and demonstrate their tech in one of many specific environments supplying a unique advantage for innovators in this field.
Behind the glass, visitors can see UACI startups at the Biosphere 2 outpost working on businesses that address sustainable agriculture, high-efficiency solar power, and simulations of closed ecosystems to prepare for human habitation on the moon or Mars. By purposefully interconnecting resources to foster innovation, business can rapidly test, demonstrate and deploy new technology. Potential expansion plans include the creation of a tech park that will enable private businesses to directly participate in the ongoing research and innovation endeavors at Biosphere 2.
During the grand opening of the UACI outpost, UArizona President Dr. Robert C. Robbins said, “The research expertise at the University of Arizona contributes to the worldwide effort to develop a more sustainable future. This future-focused environment, dedicated to moving innovations forward, provides the ideal platform for technology advancements and business growth.”
UACI at Oro Valley
Opened in 2019, the UACI at Oro Valley site is an incubator focused on supporting bioscience discoveries and helping entrepreneurs translate them into marketable technologies.
Located northwest of Tucson, the Town of Oro Valley is a bioscience epicenter growing from UArizona tech startup Ventana Medical Systems that was acquired by pharmaceutical giant Roche. UACI links UArizona’s innovation ecosystem directly into the heartbeat of Oro Valley’s thriving bioscience sector.
UACI’s incubator is located in Innovation Park and is poised to help launch and grow new bio and life science-oriented enterprises with programming and specialized facilities including office, lab space, and shared equipment such as an ultra-low, minus-80-degrees freezer, biosafety cabinets and an inverted fluorescence microscope.
In addition, the Oro Valley Chamber of Commerce and the Bioindustry Organization of Southern Arizona (BIOSA) sponsor startups specifically for this outpost through the UACI Sponsored Launch program.
UACI at Town of Sahuarita
In partnership with UACI, the Town of Sahuarita has established an incubator program for startups based in the Sahuarita and Green Valley communities. The incubator hosts educational opportunities for entrepreneurial expansion, like one-day boot camps, and provides the tools needed to get businesses off the ground. In addition, the Town of Sahuarita, in collaboration with Freeport-McMoRan Inc, sponsor startups annually through the Sponsored Launch program.
UACI at Vail
Born out of collaboration, in the Vail Chamber Connection office is a UACI touchdown office space. Conversely, the Vail Chamber has a touchdown office located in UACI’s headquarters. Startup companies, business coaches, Vail businesses, Tech Parks partners and more work from either office, building their businesses and networks.
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