Doug Hockstad Leads Tech Launch Arizona to Prosperity
By Jay Gonzales
There was a point in his professional career when Doug Hockstad, like so many others, was at a crossroads – one path continuing toward his life’s work and the other in a direction still relatively unknown.
A computer engineer, he had worked in the software industry. He had worked in established companies and a startup. He even had worked overseas.
After what Hockstad called the “dot bomb” of the early 2000s, he left the startup and got his first taste of technology transfer. Thanks to his software experience, he was hired to help launch a software licensing program at the University of Michigan that would help in commercializing inventions from the university.
Then came the crossroads.
“I always assumed it would be a temporary role. I would do it for a while, then I would eventually go back to industry and do what I had been doing,” Hockstad said. “After a couple of years, I had an opportunity to go back to industry.
“I realized I had to make a decision whether I was going to continue my career as I had envisioned it all my life or was I going to stay doing this. After a little soul searching I just realized that the decision would set the direction for the rest of my life. I really enjoyed what I was doing and the people I was working with, and I chose to stay on and keep doing that.”
A dozen years later, Hockstad found himself at the University of Arizona in a similar role, but in an organization in its infancy.
“I had been watching Arizona − kind of out of the corner of my eye − for a couple of years,” Hockstad said. “It never made sense to me that Arizona, as a top-tier research institution, was not showing up on the commercialization results that I would expect for that level of institution.”
Tech Launch Arizona was formed under the administration of then-President Ann Weaver Hart. David Allen was hired to lead the new unit and get the office off the ground to start bringing UArizona research and technology into the market.
“I reached out (to Allen) and said, ‘I want to understand what you’re doing.’ He reached back out to me and said, ‘you need to apply for this role.’ So I did and that was that. I saw it as an opportunity to be a part of something brand new, something that was going to really change, not just the university, but the region.”
It was the beginning of a team that has since made a huge economic impact on the university, the researchers and inventors on campus, students diving into the tech transfer field, and the overall regional economy.
“Doug’s a remarkable leader,” said Betsy Cantwell, senior VP for research and innovation at UArizona. She heads the Office for Research, Innovation and Impact where TLA reports.
“We got Doug from Michigan, which is a place where they really look at this holistic package and value proposition,” Cantwell said. “Doug and his team try really hard to measure the investors’ portfolios in the companies we spin out as startups. They work directly with Tech Parks (Arizona) on physical locations, making sure we have places in Tucson and in Southern Arizona for our startups. They’re very focused on impact measures that don’t just serve the university.”
“Doug has been an excellent team leader and team builder internally,” said Paul Tumarkin, TLA’s assistant director for marketing and communications. “I think he understands every job in the office very well and is a great facilitator in that way. He also is very innovative, and he’s outward-looking and forward-looking at the possibilities and seeing where we can go next.”
Though TLA was essentially new when Hockstad arrived, he knew that his decision to stay in technology transfer and to do it at UArizona was the right move. In 2018, Allen retired and Hockstad moved into the leadership role.
In 10 years, TLA has started more than 125 companies, had an economic output in the billions, and has given researchers and inventors on campus an outlet for their life’s work that barely existed at UArizona prior to TLA’s formation.
“There was never a time where I thought we can’t do this,” Hockstad said. “There was never a time where I thought this is a bigger bite than I expected. We knew what we were getting into, but we also knew what steps we had to take to make it happen.”