| 5 minute read

Catalysing regional development through place-based innovation at Tech Parks Arizona

Elena Galán-Muros
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For this week’s podcast, we have invited Carol Stewart, Vice President of Tech Parks at the University of Arizona to delve into the pivotal role of tech parks in fostering innovation.

Join us as we explore this dynamic relationship between academia and industry, and how it has driven significant economic impact and talent development in the tech sector.

In this article, we summarise part of that conversation, but you can listen to the full interview in our podcast:

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Todd Davey:
Welcome, Carol. Could you tell us more about your role and the aat the University of Arizona?

Carol Stewart:
I lead the TechParks division, which means I’m CEO of two tech parks and President of the Startup Incubator Network, the UA Center for Innovation. I’m a crazy Canadian that is down in the U. S., and I was also the Founding Director of the University of Waterloo’s Research and Technology Park, and I was there for 13 years building it from the ground out, from a cornfield to a million square feet and 3,000 knowledge workers.

That’s where I cut my teeth on the place based innovation model. I was really excited to come down to Tucson as they had a lot of the right ingredients when it comes to world class startup incubator system, and a robust science park and innovation district network.

Todd Davey:
The University of Arizona has a strong reputation for innovation. How does your role and also the TechPark contribute to and support the vision of the University of Arizona?

Carol Stewart:
The university of Arizona is very similar to the University of Waterloo in the number of students. They both have about 50,000 students.

A big difference that I found when I came down to the University of Arizona is the level of research. Last year we were just shy of $1,000M for research, which contributes to our strong reputation for innovation.

What’s really important for TechParks and our Startup Incubator is to mirror the land-grant mission of the University of Arizona. There’s only one designated land-grant institution in each state, which means that we have a responsibility for outreach and we need to support rural areas and the 22 tribal nations in our state.

We currently have two research parks and we are looking at our third science park. Our incubator network also has a number of outposts that are in smaller regions as well.

We are a separate 501 C3 from the University, which is a not for profit, and allows us to work at a different pace than the university itself. We are also self-funded, so we can work a little faster and independent of the institution and their policies.

Todd Davey:
How do you then foster collaboration and connections between the internal environment and externally with factors such as industry and government stakeholders?

Carol Stewart:
With any science park or research and tech park, there’s very specific criteria of who can become tenants.

When you are either courting or receiving a prospect for the Science or the R&T parks, there needs to be some sort of connection with the university. That could be interns, hiring grads, collaborative research projects, or usage of core facilities, etc.

There’s multiple levels that can happen, and we are the ones facilitating the introductions and mapping to the right people within the organisation, because it’s really difficult. And this is the essence of UIIN, right? It’s really difficult to navigate your way onto these massive campuses to the one exact right person that you need to talk to.

We are really facilitators in making those connections so that the university becomes very successful and the corporation that we’re working with as well. This helps us advance both of the missions and visions for those very different entities.

Todd Davey:
To what degree do you orientate your activities to high growth companies and start-ups, and what sort of activities or support are you providing?

Carol Stewart:
The UA Center for Innovation (UACI) is our start-up incubator. We have had some hockey stick success with our program. We have gone from a handful of start-ups for over 15 years to 60 to 80 companies in our start-up incubator program in the last two years.

Our program is very personalised. Start-ups are not linear, so we do a baseline with them to find out where their knowledge gaps are. We have a 28-step roadmap that we always share with anyone who is interested.

We only service science and tech companies, but we have other people in our ecosystem that can support, for example, anything that’s lifestyle, food, or retail-based.

Mapping your ecosystem is an important point, and we have gone through some of the UIIN programs, which really helped us organise our continuum within the university and how it fits within the overall community. Everybody knows their specialisation, and then you don’t have all these fiefdoms being built and the struggle for ownership.

We are now that place for start-ups to start and scale within the TechPark. We have the services and the specialised infrastructure to do that, whether it’s wet labs, dry labs, touchdown space, and then obviously full R&D space.

Ready for more?

Since its establishment in 2005, ArcLabs Research and Innovation Centre has served as a hub for early-stage companies, fostering their growth and success through its strong connections to both the university and the broader region. Read more about their journey at our Incubator Spotlight: ArcLabs Research and Innovation Centre.

Interested in comprehensively mapping and measuring your external engagement? Learn how UIIN can help you by developing your own tailored framework with our Pathway to Impact program.

Stay tuned for the next episode on this series and don’t forget to follow us on your preferred podcast platform!

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