AZ Furnace – First 10 Startups

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The first 10 startup companies have been selected to participate in the AZ Furnace Accelerator, an innovative initiative that encourages entrepreneurs to commercialize innovations developed at Arizona’s universities and research institutions. Gordon McConnell, Executive Director for Venture Acceleration at Arizona State University, talks about AZ Furnace’s first group of startups.

Ted Simons: The Arizona furnace accelerator is an innovative way to get -- innovative way to tap into the institute of higher learning. The first ten startups were chosen. The winners were picked from 50 applicants and will be using ideas from Arizona State University, the U of A and Dignity Health Arizona. Here to tell us more about the Arizona furnace accelerator is Gordon McConnell. He's with venture acceleration at Arizona State University. Good to see you again. And thanks for joining us. Give me a better definition of Arizona furnace accelerator.

Gordon McConnell: We wanted to take on unused patents from organizations in the state, which are mostly owned by the citizens of the state. The with the research. We want to translate them into new start-up companies by saying to the entrepreneur, come and look at these. And we'll back you in a competitive process to do new company.

Ted Simons: So, it's tech transfer kind of a start-up deal?

Gordon McConnell: Through a competition.

Ted Simons: Through a competition. Ok.

Ted Simons: Let's talk about that competition, because you have the ten finalists now. And who decides?

Gordon McConnell: So two, first an online system, the technology transfer office is in each of the institutions, looked at the teams, and said we are happy with these, and we think that they can take our technologies because they manage them. That was round one, and then round two was very tough, they had to go in front of a panel, and there was a ten-minute pitch, half the panel were made up of the two extraordinary funders. Arizona commerce authority and bioexcel, and of the transfer office is. I was not in the room. I was outside the room but the looks on their faces, it was a tough process.

Ted Simons: I'll bet.

Gordon McConnell: And we get ten winners.

Ted Simons: So the ten winners now are folks that will win what?

Gordon McConnell: They get six months, either with us and the innovation center in Scottsdale or they will get them in Tucson. And we will put them through a process that is very heavily mentor-led that will help to accelerate them from just teams with patents to real companies at the end six months. So, they are ideas you can move the company faster through these kind of acceleration processes, and we have done this before. You have had some of our student startups, and than you would if you were on your own so very intensive, a lot of late nights and weekends, and they don't know what they are letting themselves this is for but it should be fun for them, and hopefully we'll get good companies coming out the other end.

Ted Simons: We don't have time for all winners. Give us highlights here.

Gordon McConnell: It's interesting. Not just a job creation, there is a humanity angle here. I think is really interesting so you have got one that's looking at, at early detection of diseases like Alzheimer's Disease. And early detection of cancer. And you have got one that's looking at rehab development for people who have had a stroke where you can do it at home instead of in the hospital in an unobtrusive way, and one where 12 you can take tires and unused tires, and putting them in a particular fashion, adding them to concrete for roads, the road will be a better road, and it will crack less and have better traction. And you are also meaning that you won't have loads of tires lying around which we tend to do. They catch on fire, and as I'm sure you know in the news business, and also, the fact that you are using less concrete so a sustainable way of building better roads.

Ted Simons: And I would think less of these tires, there is some problems with leaching, with the products.

Gordon McConnell: Right.

Gordon McConnell: Less of that with concrete, so, you know, there is, a start-up taking content, which, and I think that we discussed this beforehand, I was very bad at learning math when I was at, at school. And this is way of doing that, and that they are taking content from some professors in ASU, and kids will learn math through games. So we know they are learning math, which is always the best way to teach, I think, younger children. So, really interesting ideas that have a real impact on humanity, not just case of let's do start-up for the sake of it.

Ted Simons: And this was research, whether it was using tires or biomarkers or games for math. This was research in initiated at the university?

Gordon McConnell: Mostly Federally funded.

Ted Simons: And companies said, we can take that -- 13

Gordon McConnell: They are brand new people. They are brand new, ten startups, literally coming to life, we're in the birthing stage of the, of it.

Ted Simons: They said that we can take those ideas, and we can run with it in this fashion?

Gordon McConnell: I'll put them into the real world.

Ted Simons: Ok, once they are in the real world and running with them, this is stuff that, you know, Arizona taxpayers have helped to support here, what keeps them in Arizona?

Gordon McConnell: Well, you know, we talked about this the last time, Arizona is a great place to do a start-up business, you know. From a taxation point of view. From the supports available through Arizona commerce authority. And the fact that it's a right to work state, the fact that there is a lot less bureaucracy, so, we have no problem with the argument for staying, venture capital is an issue but we think that a lot of these companies will stay on because they are linked with these teams, they are mixed teams with the academics who created the research, that was the whole idea, to bring the academics and these entrepreneurs together in a way that will probably keep them long-term because they obviously will keep working with the academics, and other patents down the line that they want to access more research that, they will be able to fund back into the university. So it's a two-way direction here, not just case that these patents and people are running with them. They will work with the academic community, as well, which will bring, lift both.

Ted Simons: So the idea is it makes sense for them, but there is no requirement.

Gordon McConnell: Beyond the six months, they technically corks but we're very confident between the supports that we issue, that our colleague and is the other institutions like the University of Arizona offer, and the fact that bioexcel and Arizona commerce authority are behind this from day one, and understanding that, that this is all about startups and risk in a way that many economic development organizations don't, I think that will be the key to keeping these long-term.

Ted Simons: It will be good to see how the companies do or ten, I guess they are now companies.

Gordon McConnell: They are in the process of becoming companies, yes.

Ted Simons: We'll keep an eye on them, good stuff and good to have you. Thank you very much.

Gordon McConnell: Thanks, Ted.

Gordon McConnell:Executive Director, Venture Acceleration at Arizona State University;

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