In February 2020, mere weeks before COVID brought the nation to a near halt, the University of Arizona broke ground on their Tech Park at The Bridges, a 350-acre multi-use development in southern Tucson for technology companies and the university community. The complex is intersected with roads like “Catalyst Drive” and “Innovative Street,” and though 2020 was a strenuous year for the university system, their alignment to those ideals means The Bridges’ development remains on track.
Tech Parks Arizona operates interactive grounds for technology companies and university talent to collaborate and advance research. Beyond the new park The Bridges, they also operate the UA Tech Park at Rita Road and the UA Center for Innovation. These parks work to recruit companies and startups with connections to the UA to locate at their facilities. Though COVID turned many industries on their head, 2020 remained an efficient year for them.
Construction remains on track for The Bridges’ first building, The Refinery, a four-story building that will serve as UA’s innovation and commercialization hub. UArizona will occupy 50% of the space at The Refinery, with the rest available to businesses looking to co-locate with the university’s expertise. However, a Marriott hotel that is planned to also be constructed on The Bridges’ campus has been delayed, although the company is continually extending their agreement to develop there.
The UA Center for Innovation, a startup business incubator network operated by Tech Parks Arizona, also made 2020 a standout year. According to executive director Eric Smith, UACI more than doubled the amount of startups they’ve served since the pandemic began, and currently serve 46 startups.
“We’ve seen quite a bit of growth,” Smith said. “Startups exist to solve real-world problems for certain customer segments, and I think the pandemic showed a light on many of the world’s problems. So now, entrepreneurs are hard at work trying to solve all of these things. And I think there was also a significant increase in people saying ‘now is the time. I’m out of work, or my company is struggling, and now is the time to develop this thing I’ve had in mind.’”
Some of UACI’s most noteworthy startups include TheraCea Pharma, a biotechnology company that focuses on developing rapid chemical processes to prepare chemical agents for medical imaging; Reparvi, a company developing the “Cell Repair Engineering” platform to construct bioparticles as a new generation of vaccines; Navia Energy, which is creating artificially intelligent solar inverters to address energy blackouts; and Auxilium Technology Group, which is working to develop sustainable mining processes.
“It’s really a process of practice-what-you-preach,” said Carol Stewart, associate vice president for Tech Parks Arizona. “We teach out startups to be nimble and ready to pivot, and so that’s one of the areas we really focused on in our conversations. We were very well prepared with our emergency planning, with our continuity of operations plans.”
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