University-Industry Engagement Week

U Arizona opens hybrid innovation hub that serves both start-ups and corporate partners

By David Schwartz
Published: November 19th, 2019

The University of Arizona’s new Arizona Forge Business Innovation Hub will serve as a nexus between UA students and faculty, start-up founders and corporate innovators, fronted by the nonprofit entrepreneurship group Startup Tucson.

“It does have incubation, but it also has corporate innovation and it has experiential education — it’s kind of borrowing from a lot of different best practices,” said Brian Ellerman, leader of Arizona Forge and a longtime entrepreneur and expert in medical information technology.

The west end of the building’s second floor will provide space for Arizona Forge client companies, a middle section will provide space for visiting students, and the east end will hold offices for corporate innovation executives to help bridge the worlds of entrepreneurship, academia and corporate innovation, he explained.

“I spent a lot of my corporate life traveling and seeing incubators around the world and how they worked,” said Ellerman a UA alum. “And some of it is corporate innovation, which I led, and some of it is the experiential education — how you put students in the middle of it, literally in the crossfire between start-ups and companies and have them be able to both work on projects for the companies or intern with the start-ups.”

Startup Tucson will occupy the first floor of the building and become the hub’s community-facing component.

“Our role is to help the space remain accessible to the community,” Startup Tucson CEO Liz Pocock said. “The goal is really to create this kind of buzzy hub that is a beacon for where entrepreneurship can happen.”

Along with managing the community space and serving as an open door to the larger community, Ellerman said Startup Tucson will help vet and train start-up founders in the early stages, before they are ready for Arizona Forge’s programs.

With Arizona Forge offering resources, including office space and professional help valued at more than $50,000 annually, Ellerman says applicants must be well-positioned to join the program. “We can’t give that to everybody. We have to be very selective. So we’re leaning heavily on Startup Tucson to help filter that and make sure everyone who comes through really has those business fundamentals,” she said.

A dozen applicants will be picked to form an initial cohort to work on their ideas with mentors and each other, and under a unique model the applicants themselves will judge and choose the top four start-ups that will become Forge incubator clients for up to three years, Ellerman said.

That process will be repeated three times a year, though after the initial cohort of four, only two from each group of 12 finalists will earn incubator spots.

Sustaining sponsors of Startup Tucson include the Southern Arizona Leadership Council and the city of Tucson, and program and event sponsors include the Arizona Commerce Authority, Cox Communications, Tucson Electric Power Co., IBM, Visit Tucson and Hexagon Mining.

Source: Arizona Daily Star

Posted under: University-Industry Engagement Week