October 18-20 | Tucson, AZ

The Research Institution GAP Fund and Accelerator Program Summit

Event in AZ underscores common tensions and opportunities in tech commercialization and U-I relations

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October 18-20, 2023 / Tucson, AZ
The annual summit for research institution gap fund and accelerator programs, including proof of concept programs, startup accelerators, and university venture funds

The Story

Some of the biggest names in Tucson business — Jim Click, Bruce Beach and Don Diamond — all agree that if this region is to gain traction and grow economically, it needs to attract the kind of capital that will help entrepreneurs turn their dreams into commercially viable businesses.

That was the thrust of an invitation-only kick-off workshop attended by about 175 people April 26 at the Tucson Marriott University Park Hotel.

It’s the kind of event organizers Bank of Tucson, BeachFleischman and Jim Click Automotive Group would like to see continue so leaders of growth-oriented business can share their challenges, explore opportunities and build relationships. That’s not unlike what has happened in other places, like Austin, Texas.

“I know what they’ve got in Austin and at the University of Texas and you know what? I like where we are right now,” said Len Jessup dean of the University of Arizona’s Eller College of Management.

Noting that places like Austin took a generation and longer to get where they are, Jessup says Tucson and the UA are putting the tools in place to make it happen here.

Tech Launch Arizona, a technology commercialization center to coordinate community resources, businesses and UA inventors to create businesses, is getting close to naming a director, according to Jessup, who was charged with overseeing the venture when it was launched in November.

He acknowldged the UA has lagged behind when it comes to technology transfer to commercial viability, but says that is changing. The challenges are still there.

The University of Utah and Salt Lake City, which was in circumstances similar to Tucson’s, is already about seven years ahead of the UA and Tucson.

One speaker who has seen his share of recessionary times in Tucson is developer Don Diamond, who said he has lived through four recessions in his nearly 50 years here.

The difference this time, though, is that growth won’t lead Tucson to recovery. At one time, climate and beautiful scenery were enough to attract people to the region. That’s not the case anymore.

“There won’t be a boom in the next decade,” said Diamond, chairman of Diamond Ventures Inc.

The trouble is “we don’t work together here. Phoenix does. ASU has their act together but the walls of the UA are just now beginning to open up and they’re sharing their ideas,” Diamond said.

He encouraged investors to overlook the political climate here to “work with the entrepreneurial spirit that will lead us out” of the recession.

Due to a family emergency away from Tucson, Click didn’t attend the workshop and Lisa Lovallo, vice president and system manager for Cox Communications Southern Arizona, said she felt as if she was “called up from the minors” to talk about customer service.

Coming from a background in consumer products, Lovallo admitted she hadn’t been schooled in some of the details of the technological services offered by Cox. In her zeal to make every customer happy, one of her earliest requests of the head of Cox operations was to hook-up a customer who complained of trying in vain for months to get cable service. When the new hook-up came online, her bosses in Phoenix noticed it too, because it cost Cox more than $37,000 to install.

“It’s going to take a lot of time to get a return on investment on that one,” she admitted.

Not all customers are worth fighting for, Lovallo told the audience. In Cox’s case, customers who are merely attracted to low prices are not necessarily long-term customers because they’ll flee at the first opportunity for a low price.

“We sell technology and more often what our customers tell us they want is for that technology to work,” she said. “That’s more important to businesses.”

Other speakers at the event included Marc Sandroff, a principal and founder of management services and private equity firm Cadre Partners, and David Cohen, executive vice president and a co-founder of BeachFleischman.

Sandroff told attendees what it takes to make an entrepreneur business attractive to investors or for eventual sale.

Cohen outlined state and federal programs that encourage investment through tax credits.

Organizers of the event say they’ll evaluate the reaction from attendees to decide what direction future sessions should take.

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