By guest authors Irina Patterson and Candice Arnold
I am talking to Bruce Wright and Molly Gilbert, both of whom are with the University of Arizona Office of University Research Parks (OURP).
Bruce Wright is associate vice president of OURP. He directs the office and serves as the CEO of the University of Arizona (U of A) Science and Technology Park and Arizona Bioscience Park. He is also president of both the Arizona Center for Innovation (AzCI) and the Campus Research Corporation (CRC).
Molly Gilbert is deputy director of OURP. She leads strategic initiatives there and serves as project manager for the Arizona Bioscience Park.
Our conversation is primarily focused on the Arizona Center for Innovation, the university’s technology business incubator.
Irina: Hi Bruce, I see you are the president of the Arizona Center for Innovation.
Bruce: Yes. It’s a nonprofit incubator located at the Arizona University Science and Technology Park.
Irina: Since you are the president of the incubator, let’s just talk a little bit about your background and how you arrived at this point in your life.
Ho: Sure. I grew up in California, did my undergraduate work at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon. I came down to Tucson, University of Arizona, to do my graduate work.
My education was in political science and political economics. My first job was with the city of Tucson as a management analyst. After that, I went to work for Representative Morris Udall, who was a congressman from this area, and served as his chief of staff for about six years. I did that in Washington, D.C.
I came back to Tucson and started a consulting company, and then was asked by the University of Arizona to take a job as the director of community and public service at the university. I’ve been with the university ever since, almost 25 years, in a variety of capacities, but mostly focused on economic development and technology innovation and commercialization.
Irina: When did you become the president of the Arizona Center for Innovation?
Bruce: I served as one of its founders. We began in 2003. I’ve served in that capacity ever since. I serve as the CEO of the incubator.
Irina: Where is the incubator located?
Bruce: It’s located at the University of Arizona Science and Technology Park. The park, which is very large, is located in the southeastern part of Tucson.
Irina: And you said it’s a nonprofit organization, right?
Bruce: Yes it is. The park is owned by the University of Arizona, but it’s operated by a nonprofit 501(c)3 corporation.
Irina: Does this incubator have any particular industry preference?
Bruce: We focus on technology companies. We’re particularly focused on four areas: life and biosciences is one area, optics and photonics, defense and border security, and renewable energy with a special focus on solar energy.
Irina: How about software companies?
Bruce: We have had companies that have come into the incubator with software. It’s not our primary focus, but we certainly are willing to bring software and IT startups into the incubator. We have company right now called HealthFlash Card, which is a software company.
Irina: What do they do?
Molly: What they’ve developed is a program that allows you to put all of your medical records onto a USB drive. So, as you go and visit the doctor, you go to the hospital, you have all of your medical records with you, in person. You can have them updated at the time.
Irina: At what stage of their development would you suggest companies get involved with your incubator?
Bruce: We have a philosophy of trying to capture the company when it’s just in the mind of the inventor. We try to reach out and work with our university faculty and students with entrepreneurs and inventors here in the region. The earlier that we can make contact with them and start our discussions and offer our assistance, the better.
The way our program works is we have a multi-phase program. The first is called Startup, where we start talking to the inventors or the founders and provide them with a series of workshops, training sessions, and discussions to determine whether it makes sense for them to take their companies forward.
The next step is called Mentored Launch, where we then pair them up with experienced entrepreneurs or mentors who can help them start to put their business plans together.
The third phase is called Commercial Reality where we actually bring them into the incubator physically, in residence, and work with them in developing their companiestheir products and securing investments or investors.