It Takes a Village: Community Collaborators Further Success at University of Arizona Center for Innovation

Together, we can achieve more. 

It’s a simple phrase at the heart of the University of Arizona Center for Innovation. The number of partners that UACI works with is too great to list, but every contributor adds to the  success of a startup. UACI is part of the Tucson Innovation Partnership, a group of leaders that serve the entrepreneurship and innovation communities, work collaboratively and represent the very best in small business support. 

UACI has worked with a number of organizations over the past two decades as the ecosystem has evolved streamlining how organizations come together to raise startups as a community. 

Arizona Technology Council

Established in 2002 and grown to a membership of 750 professionals, the Arizona Technology Council is the state’s principal advocate for science and technology-based companies. AZTC hosts events, educational forums and business conferences that bring together visionaries, leaders and innovators to further advance the technology industry in Arizona. It’s marked several key achievements over the past 20 years, including the restoration of career and technical education funding, pro-technology legislation and the founding of the SciTech Institute, which strengthens Arizona’s science and technology ecosystem.

UACI’s connection with Arizona Technology Council provides entrepreneurs with a vast network covering the entire tech industry spectrum plus business support organizations needed for growth. In a rapidly evolving tech world, the synergistic relationship between AZTC and UACI enhances opportunities for startups by complementing each other’s strengths and sharing insight into tech market trends. 

“We are unlocking the full potential of the tech ecosystem through a culture of knowledge sharing, where expertise flows freely from established giants to aspiring startups,” said Karla Bernal Morales, VP of Arizona Technology Council’s Southern Arizona Regional Office. “In this interconnected landscape, the collective wisdom propels innovation, drives progress, and equips the next generation of disruptors. Fueling tech growth is at the heart of what both organizations do. By combining the leading incubator network with the premier tech association, the collaboration empowers entrepreneurs to thrive and has accelerated the growth of Arizona’s tech sector.”

Desert Angels

Desert Angels, which launched in 2000, is a nonprofit organization of accredited angel investors who invest money in early-stage, scalable companies across multiple industries nationwide. Desert Angels is currently ranked No. 1 in the Southwest region and No. 4 in the U.S. based on number of deals, according to the Angel Resource Institute HALO Report.  Desert Angels members have invested more than $60 million in 110 new companies since 2010. 

UACI and the Desert Angels have commonly worked together orchestrating events like IdeaFunding, Arizona’s largest and longest running  competition that provides startups with the opportunity to pitch their businesses on a major stage and win thousands of dollars in cash prizes.

Desert Angels’ long-lasting relationship with UACI is noteworthy. “Desert Angels was formed  just after Tucson Tech Incubator opened at the UA Tech Park,” Joann MacMaster, CEO of Desert Angels said. “Desert Angels formed a partnership with TTI, and together they established a new foundation to support early-stage companies in Southern Arizona. TTI, as you may have guessed, was the precursor to today’s UACI.” 

Today, Carol Stewart, VP of Tech Parks Arizona, serves on the board of Desert Angels and several of its members act as mentors for UACI startups. 

“Roughly 10% of our portfolio of invested companies are UACI graduates, but over 80% of that portfolio  are based in Arizona and likely have had some support, mentoring, or program access provided by UACI,” MacMaster noted. 

Startup Tucson

Startup Tucson’s mission aligns closely with UACI’s: To foster the growth  of local startup businesses via educational tools, mentorship, networking events and workshops. 

Founded in 2012, the non-profit serves more than 3,000 entrepreneurs each year and its alumni have brought in more than $44 million in investment along with 400 new jobs. 

These organizations collaborate to execute the annual IdeaFunding pitch competition as part of the TENWEST Impact Festival.  Both events  elevate local startups to the community and connect founders with a large  network in the entrepreneurial ecosystem.

“Working collaboratively with UACI enhances the startup support system here in Tucson,” said Startup Tucson CEO Liz Pocock. “Both Startup Tucson and UACI share a common vision of Tucson serving as an innovation hub where entrepreneurs nationwide see our region as the ideal place to grow a business.”

Tech Launch Arizona

Doug Hockstad, associate VP of Tech Launch Arizona, describes TLA and UACI as two sides of the same coin. “TLA gets new technologies and inventions rooted in University research off the ground,” Hockstad emphasized, “We have a dedicated venture development team that supports the early stages of startup development, from idea through formation and launch. That said, after launch, most of these young university-based tech companies still need more support to grow and scale. UACI helps those startups incubate and accelerate to become successful and sustainable businesses.” 

Formed in 2012, TLA facilitates the movement of inventions and intellectual property derived in labs and support units at the University of Arizona into the marketplace. “UArizona is a top-tier research institution,” Hockstad proclaimed. “TLA commercializes the results of that research.” 

TLA serves as one of multiple sources of startups that feed into UACI. The bridge between organizations is fortified by the fact that UACI Executive Director Eric Smith worked at TLA prior to this role. 

“It’s seamless,” Hockstad said. “Eric understands the technology development, licensing and venture development side from his work  at TLA. Now with UACI, he’s helping accelerate those nascent startups by providing tools and resources to take them to the next level.” 

TLA and UACI share another commonality, mentor-in-residence Steve Wood, who provides his expertise.  Through his work, he guides startup founders through the commercialization and business development process, helping the budding businesses at the foundational level to scale effectively. 

Regional, National & International Collaborators 

In addition to the collaborators mentioned, UACI has well-established connections with industry associations including the Bioindustry Organization of Southern Arizona and the Arizona Bioindustry Association and regional groups including City of Tucson, Pima County and the Arizona Commerce Authority. Plus, numerous national organizations including U.S. Small Business Administration, U.S. Department of Energy, U.S. Department of State, and Wells Fargo Bank. UACI is also connected with the International Business Innovation Association, which certified UACI  with the Soft Landings designation in 2020.

“Collaboration is key to supporting the success of startups,” said Casey Carrillo, assistant director for UACI. She is the program lead for UACI and its role as one of six Power Connectors with the U.S. Department of Energy National Renewable Energy Laboratory, “While working together toward a common goal, we learn an exceptional amount from each other. Sharing our collective knowledge with entrepreneurs makes a huge impact in their ability to leverage greater resources and efficiently bring new tech to market.”


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